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Zeuhlsaga Zünd VI: Déjà Vu Futura

After ‘Emëhntëht-Rê’, Magma were rejoined by Jannick Top’s entire troupe, including lovely Klaus.  I guessed correctly that they would play… yep, ‘De Futura’.  I reckon ‘De Futura’ is like the Zeuhl equivalent of a 12-bar blues: it’s definitely what would be played at a Kobaïan jam session!  Everyone knows how it goes… and oh my goodness, it ‘goes’ alright!  On and on and on and on and…  On the ‘Üdü Wüdü’ studio version, it’s a seventeen-minute blow-out.  It seemed… much longer, much BIGGER, live.  Mind you, there were so many people clogging up the stage that it’s a wonder it even worked.  Our blonde friend returned in a different outfit, and this time she played the violin instead of caterwauling.  The violin was actually rather impossible to hear amidst the cacophony of THREE drumkits, TWO WHOLE ZEUHL BASS GUITARISTS – I mean, ONE is enough to give most sane people a bout of indigestion, but Jannick Top AND Bussonnet on one stage… if there had been snow on the theatre roof, they’d have caused an avalanche.  For some reason a trumpeter (I think?) appeared – I have no idea why.  And Klaus, joined on vocals by Hervé, growled and yelped for all he was worth, occasionally beating an enormous drum when the mood struck him.  It was RIDICULOUS – and oddly magnificent!

On the 14th, I kind of hoped they might play something other than ‘De Futura’ (which I had effectively heard three times already, what with having withstood two renditions of ‘Infernal Machina’, which amounts in large part to the same thing!).  I hoped for ‘Mëkanïk Zaïn’, preferably with some kind of beastly bass guitar solo (perhaps a little light rivalry between Top and Bussonnet?  That would have been DEADLY!) – it would be the right kind of length, and would doubtless go down a storm – but nope: ‘De Futura’ it was… yet again.  I think Jannick Top must play ‘De Futura’ in his sleep.  (I ought to mention that Blonde Lady’s costume was more revealing than ever on the 14th: her skirt was short enough to demonstrate that those were definitely tights, not stockings; and her second costume featured a see-through-Lycra-top-and-black-bra ensemble… phew!)

After that, on both nights, the final encore consisted of the 'Ballade' sung by Vander, with the rest of the band gradually joining him.  A beautiful, calm and uplifting ending.

Final thoughts...

One thing that I found a bit frustrating was how… laid back the audience were.  Music this rhythmic and passionate is, for me, almost impossible not to dance to.  (It looks ridiculous, but it feels fantastic!  You should totally try it!!)  The atmosphere was noticeably more raucous on the 14th, presumably because it was the final night – there was more of a frisson, more psychic input from the audience somehow.  But still, not much in the way of physical jerks (apart from a person with long hair a few rows behind me, who was REALLY INTO IT.  Good for you, whoever you were!).  There was a bit of polite chair-wriggling during ‘De Futura’, but that was it.  I had been a teensy bit worried beforehand that I might… ya know… totally lose control of myself: freak out, speak in tongues, whatever, under the influence of this legendary live Magma energy that everyone goes on about.  Well, the urge to leap up and down did not leave me for one second, but I retained my composure.  I don’t think it can be very Parisian to have an attack of the screaming Blitzfunk heebie-jeebies in public… ce n’est pas chic!

I can tell you honestly that after the first concert on the 13th, I could hardly string a sentence together from sheer… ibble-glibble.  You know when you are so happy that when you try to speak, your voice sounds all weird and loud?  Yes… that.  My lovely fiancé was very patient with me!  I was less drivelicious on the 14th, having perhaps built up a modicum of tolerance – but still, highly excited and delighted!

And… that, you’ll be pleased to read, is just about it.  Except to say that my only other disappointment was not managing to properly converse with any other Magmaphiles.  I did, by sheer serendipity, exchange a coupla sentences with Steve Ashworth (who I guess I can describe as ‘a renowned British Magma fan’?  I knew of him, certainly!) on my way out of the place on the 14th (I simply wanted to enquire, of an English-speaking person, where people were getting posters from!).  Other than that… nada.  I failed to insinuate myself beforehand with the Magma cognoscenti, you see, and thus get myself invited to any social occasions or what-have-you!!  Well, I was also in Paris for romantic Valentine’s Day frolics with my darling fiancé, who would most likely have been bored stiff by Magma-related chit-chat with strangers, so maybe that’s for the best.  Still, next time – I hope there will be a next time – there will definitely be a stylishly-attired gatecrasher at yer Magma fan gathering. ;-)

(You Have Been Warned. ;-P)



( 13 confidences — Confide in me... )
Feb. 26th, 2009 08:45 pm (UTC)
I loved reading your thoughts on the concerts. I consider myself one of the USA's biggest Magma fans, and even wrote about them all the way back in 1988 for Option magazine, and I have been following them since 1975, when I got "Live." Only once have I ever seen them live, in Chicago in 2000, but it was probably the single greatest show I have ever seen: just to see Kohntarkosz (long my fave tune) live was enough, but I also got to see Theusz Hamtaak, Hhai and MDK as well. I am sad I cannot hear the new songs as yet, and the youtubee clips have such sorry sound it is not worth it to listen. But your writeup was a pleasure to read.

Dana Lawrence
Feb. 26th, 2009 09:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Magma
THANK YOU!! :-) I'm very glad you enjoyed my rather longwinded account!

...and wow, you got to hear Köhntarkösz, Theusz Hamtaahk and MDK live - I hope I get to, someday.

Yep, the YouTube footage really doesn't do the music any favours, so I didn't bother to include any - it would have given a pretty poor representation.

Well, thanks again for your comment. It's always nice to hear from Magmaphiles! :-)
Mar. 9th, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Magma
If you download Soulseek, you can access this concert and some others on bootlegs. For audience recordings, the sound is not at all bad. Far, far, better than the You-tube mangle.
Feb. 27th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)
I'm insanely jealous that you got to see Christian Vander. It sounds like you had a great couple of nights :-)
Mar. 2nd, 2009 10:59 am (UTC)
Yes, it was super-awesome! :-) Vander certainly has... charisma. (I don't mean in the way of politicians, either!)
Mar. 5th, 2009 04:13 am (UTC)
Well, there are all of ten people on LJ who list "Christian Vander" as an interest, and we comprise 20% of them. Very glad to have found these posts!

If you've ever seen a copy of the original U.S. release of Udu Wudu, on Tomato Records (or the unauthorized CD version of same), you've seen that it has, as "liner notes," an excerpt of a review of Magma Live (not identified as such) that appeared in The Harvard (as in University) Independent. Which I had written. And which they had used without permission. Or even sending a review copy of the new album to the paper! (Magma's labels all seemed to be clueless with the press: when I wrote to A&M in 1973 asking for more info on the band for a big write-up I was planning to do of MDK, they sent me back a a copy of their catalog and a form letter saying that they didn't sell records directly to consumers!) So I think it's safe to say that I'm the only hard-core Magma fan who has had the delight of not only finding a new Magma album in the record store (one I hadn't heard was coming out), but turning it over and finding my name and verbiage on the back!

I waited nearly 30 years for my own first Magma concert experience. I drove down from Boston to NYC in, IIRC, 2000 -- the same tour that Dana above saw, I'm pretty sure. I got there hours early, before sound check, and introduced myself to the band, and did a brief interview with Christian, Stella translating. Christian signed my copy of Udu Wudu, and the look on his face when Stella explained to him that I had written the notes (very clearly it had been translated for him at some time in the probably distant past -- it began "Imagine the perfect jazz-rock drummer"), well, I'll never forget that. It was also a thrill when I asked him what his favorite Bartok piece was and he instantly replied "Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste" -- both because that's my favorite Bartok piece and because I think its DNA is all over Kohntarkosz (though much less directly than Stravinsky's La Noce is the source of Riah Sahiltaahk or Carmina Burana inspired MDK). And he gave me a battered drumstick, which I have before me as I type (Zildjian 7A, "Selected hickory.")

During the sound check, they ran through the next-to-closing section of Kohntarkosz, the part with the dizziest time changes, and my skull nearly split because it was clear they were just going through the motions and it was still as exciting as any music I'd heard in my life.

They opened with Kohntarkosz, did a long version of Hhai, then the 30th anniversary arrangement of MDK, and came back and did a short version of Theusz Hamtaahk as an encore.

I had gone down expecting to hear the best concert of my life (and I spent ten years as a rock critic seeing four shows a week!) ... and it exceeded my expectations. And it did so in less than one second -- yup, the opening cymbal crash, let's all make as loud a sound as possible start to Kohntarkosz just transcended anything I could have imagined. And then it got better. (It helped that the sight lines and sound in this small nightclub, The Wetlands, were great. I saw them a few years later at a much better-known club, The Knitting Factory, and didn't enjoy it nearly as much because I disliked the room so much.)

Great to hear that they have new material! I hope I haven't made you too jealous with that story, but, hey, you just got to see Jannik Top and I never have and he remains the bass God for me. And Klaus! You got to see Klaus!
Mar. 5th, 2009 11:24 am (UTC)
Well, there are all of ten people on LJ who list "Christian Vander" as an interest, and we comprise 20% of them. Very glad to have found these posts!

Thank you kindly! :-) (...I think some of those people are referring to a German soccer player, so it's probably fewer than ten!) Get Ready for a Peculiar Magma-related Coincidence: it was only yesterday that I (belatedly) added 'Christian Vander' to my LJ interests list. And now, the next day, having followed that trail, here you are, commenting...

Wow, that must have been a strange and gratifying moment, finding yourself quoted on a Magma album! And then, years later, to actually converse with the band - if that was me I wouldn't know *what* to say! (I guess being a rock critic helps with that...) I've definitely read that interview you did. :-)

...the next-to-closing section of Kohntarkosz, the part with the dizziest time changes...

YES!! That is *mesmerising*. One of my favourite musical moments ever is that rhythmic contradiction there - a four note figure repeating and repeating stubbornly against a three note figure. Simple and yet brain-melting...

I hope I haven't made you too jealous with that story, but, hey, you just got to see Jannik Top and I never have and he remains the bass God for me. And Klaus! You got to see Klaus!

...Jealous? Hmm, I think I have to be just a little! ;-) Ah, JT and KB: that was a quite amazing combination! Two very much larger than life personalities, two instantly recognisable sounds... and they were obviously having such a great time! (I think if Klaus had had his way, everyone in the entire place would have joined in!)

Well... thank you again for taking the time to comment. :-) Your reminiscences made for very interesting reading!
Mar. 5th, 2009 01:17 pm (UTC)
Coincidence: it was only yesterday that I (belatedly) added 'Christian Vander' to my LJ interests list.

Now, this is preposterous. Because (even though I only started my journal very recently) I've been an LJ user for years, and the last time I looked to see who shared any of my interests was several years ago. Why did the thought to do so again occur to me yesterday? IIRC, I also checked out people who were interested in Bob and Ray (didn't click on any of those to see if they'd been posting about Bob and Ray recently), Mission of Burma, and Throwing Muses (clicked on one person who shared both interests and whose LJ handle I already knew).

That you added Christian Vander as an interest not long after doing your Magma posts is, of course, not coincidental, but that I discovered that within 24 hours is an example of synchronicity that would cause Jung to squeal in delight.

(This is the third truly spooky example of synchronicity I've had in the last few years, and they all involve music and electronics. Both of the others involved my iPod, on shuffle play, picking Procol Harum songs in preposterously appropriate contexts. E.g., I was visiting my prep school roommate -- he was the one who turned me on to the band and in return I had suggested he use a couplet from their "Shine on Brightly" as his yearbook quote. So I drive for 90 minutes with no Procol Harum appearing on shuffle play (there are 36 PH songs out of 1000, so the odds are as high as 2:1 against not getting them in that time span), and as I make the turn onto his road "Shine on Brightly" starts.)

And, BTW, of my other musical loves, PH is definitely the only one I can point to and say "If you like Magma, you might like these guys." They don't do any of the rhythmic stuff but they have the same combination of soulfulness in a prog context (although I've always classified them as "art rock" rather than prog because they almost always work within a conventional song format). If all you know of them is "Whiter Shade of Pale," you must check out "A Salty Dog" and "Whaling Stories."
Mar. 6th, 2009 10:15 am (UTC)
Hehe. Now that's freaky. Spooky synchronicity involving Magma keeps happening to me, though, so maybe I should learn to expect it! ;-P (Another one only this morning - will retail it below.)

Re. PH: that's even weirder!! (Quite literally 'the soundtrack to your life'!?) Thanks for the tip, BTW. I'll check 'em out! :-)
Mar. 5th, 2009 04:14 am (UTC)
(But wait, there's more!)

Checking out your last.fm page, it's odd that our tastes diverge almost completely after Magma. My next favorite acts are (Boston post-punk band) Mission of Burma, The Beach Boys, and Beethoven. (Burma, at least, share with Magma the insane high energy.) What makes Magma genius and what I especially respond to, I think, is the (usually layered) combination of minimalism and maximalism. I was listening to the 35th anniversary version of "Zess" the other day and just could not get over how preposterous it really is -- that you could play the same two chord vamp over and over again and have it be absolutely riveting, and yet at the same time, layered on top, you have this incredibly musical and high-content vocal line from Christian. Is there any other music that does the repetitive-trance-bliss-see-God thing with one hand and old-fashioned musical melody with the other? In any other lesser hands, adding the latter breaks the spell of the former -- as much as I love Steve Reich and Philip Glass, if you started overdubbing really interesting and busy melodies as counterpoint to the repetition, I think it would all fall apart. It really is an absolutely singular stylistic achievement. (And of course, this description doesn't really fit Kohntarkosz, which I think is the most exciting piece of music ever written.)

In any case, enough rambling. Glad to know that there are other people as passionate about this stuff as I am!
Mar. 5th, 2009 11:52 am (UTC)
(But wait, there's more!

Ah, but there's always more! :-)

Divergent tastes: I suppose Magma is so unique-sounding that an affection for their music need not predispose one to enjoy their so-called 'related bands'. I've noticed that, despite my ignorance on jazz and 20th Century composers, I tend to enjoy music that cites those influences. :-)

(Mission of Burma: one of those bands I've heard of, but not really investigated. Maybe one day!)

What makes Magma genius and what I especially respond to, I think, is the (usually layered) combination of minimalism and maximalism.

ABSOLUTELY. I've tried at times to describe this strange combination they have, of elegant simplicity and cluttered complexity at the same time... 'Precariously stacked textures' was one phrase that came to me... and this idea of the music having 'a vertical as well as a horizontal dimension'... in other words, arrant pseuderie! It's so tough to put into words!

I think it's the gospel/soul (even a pre-jazz, ancestrally African?) influence that does it. It's got plenty of clever, cerebral, composerish stuff going on, and yet the intensity of emotion, the urgency of purpose, is (I think) what pulls it together and makes it so different from all that other jazz-and-20th-C-composer-influenced music. ;-)

Aren't Reich's rhythms rather... machine-like (from what I recall, I haven't heard much)? Vander's rhythms always have that hip-shaking, organic, heartbeat-of-the-Universe thing going on... Repetitive, but developing as they go along, with a lot of 'implied' elements and false climaxes...

A complicated, emotive melody *would* seem awkward when played out against some rather logical, metronomic beat; but Magma works (I am guessing!) because the music emerges from human beings who respond to one another (rather than being controlled by some kind of... equation?) - the rhythms are inextricably wound and woven through the whole thing, rather than existing as a separate strand that is not necessarily connected to the 'tune'...

Ooooh, you've got me thinking/manufacturing soundbites here! (Excuse the inexpert rambling...!) Very useful for something I'm trying to write! Thank you. :-)

(...Passionate? Oh dear, I could bore for Britain on this topic!!)

Once again, thanks for commenting. I appreciate your thoughts. ^_^
Mar. 5th, 2009 01:49 pm (UTC)
Absolutely agree about the differences between Vander's repetition and that of the minimalists.

There was a great quote from a fellow Boston rock critic, Michael Bloom, when he reviewed Udu Wudu: that "De Futura" played with time the way a Steve Reich composition did, but the intention was to incite rather than [whatever, "soothe" maybe]. The repetition in Magma has a very different feel and purpose than other highly repetitive music; I think no one else has figured out that the trance-bliss effect and huge emotion / passion are not necessarily opposed.

(BTW, my favorite Reich piece is easily a very obscure early one called "Violin Phase." I wonder whether it has some Magma-esque vitality because, being an overdubbed piece by one musician to tape, it has some rhythmic "swing" that is impossible when large ensembles play his music with necessary metronomic precision. I'd be very curious to know if a fellow Magma-phile reacts the same way! If you can't locate it I'd be willing to burn you a copy, it being too long to e-mail.)

When trying to explain Magma to people, I often just end up scat-singing the "Ziss und etnah" 7/8 riff from MDK and then banging out the thundering 2/4 that underlies out as hard as I can with both hands on my thighs (and/or clapping it). Then I explain that they do the same thing with other (literally) odd time signatures and that one of my favorite moments in their music is when they switch from 13 to 13 1/2 (if I could find my copy of the score of MDK I'd be sure of where that is, but I think it's the transition from "iss iss ehnwohl iss iss uhnwehl" to "fur mehn fuhl endoh litaah"). And then I admit that my brain appears to be hard-wired to respond to this, and note that if theirs is, too, they just might be in for a treat.

You should have been a rock critic in another life -- I think I had severely underestimated the importance of soul / gospel in Vander's catalog of influences, but you have nailed that. It actually puzzled me when I first heard it mentioned in interviews and when it first emerged obviously in the music around the time of Attahk. But it is absolutely central -- it is the third pillar along with jazz and 20th century classical. I don't know if you've bought the MDK score, but if you have you know that it is actually marked "Gospel" at one point ("de weh rin dii" just before "zain zain zain ... in zain inzinehratohr geus").

Well, now I have work to do ...
Mar. 6th, 2009 10:46 am (UTC)
"De Futura" played with time the way a Steve Reich composition did, but the intention was to incite rather than [whatever, "soothe" maybe].

Absolutely. I haven't got the musical terminology to do it justice, but it has this weird (almost irritating!) syncopation to it (??! - don't know if that's the exact word I want, but the melody doesn't quite follow the beat in the way your brain expects it to, anyway...). On stage in Paris, Klaus was kind of emphasising that wait-for-it-not-yet, jumpy rhythm: with hand gestures, and a sort of teasing manner, miming something like "Oops, nearly got that bit wrong!"

The repetition in Magma has a very different feel and purpose than other highly repetitive music; I think no one else has figured out that the trance-bliss effect and huge emotion / passion are not necessarily opposed.

Yes, you can pretty much fall asleep listening to certain exponents of Krautrock! ;-) I imagine that traditional African music (with hours and hours of drumming, strange and intricate polyrhythms, focused emotional intensity, loads of dancing and chanting, etc.) might have a similar effect.

I'm not into dance/club music but I stumbled across a 'minimal trance' track based on 'Baba Yaga la Sorciere' (which is of course based on MDK!): www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsMV-UPawqM It sounds pretty weird with a machine-like beat. I wonder whether it has the desired transcendental effects that people talk about with dance music?

I'm intrigued now by that 'Violin Phase' piece. I'll see if I can find it! :-)

When trying to explain Magma to people, I often just end up scat-singing the "Ziss und etnah" 7/8 riff from MDK and then banging out the thundering 2/4 that underlies out as hard as I can with both hands on my thighs (and/or clapping it).

Haha, that's exactly what I do when singing/moving to this music. I do find it weird when people *aren't* driven crazy by the need to sort of... act out (?) some of those rhythms. For me, it's so infectious that it's almost impossible to keep still. ;-) I've always been strongly attracted to odd time signatures, though. (I think it's something to do with how 'seven denies you eight'.) There's something almost addictive about the interplay of the competing rhythms (...well, I really like it, anyway!). And when you get those shifts of emphasis (hemiola??)... wow, my brain loves those. :-D

I really want a copy of the MDK score, but last time I looked they were out of stock. :-( Hopefully more will come in, but if not I will see if I can find a 2nd hand copy. One day, however amateurishly, I'd love to sing that music with a bunch of people.

...And now, here's that Magma Coincidence I promised you. Re. the whole 'gospel' thing, in fact. This morning I took a look at www.muzikzeuhl.org - it's a French publication. Last time I checked it, a week or so ago, the website didn't work, and I wondered whether they'd closed shop. But it seems to be back up, and there, on a page titled 'new Magma compositions' or some such, there was the following announcement:

"Nouveau Répertoire pour MAGMA

Le groupe a inaugué un nouveau répêrtoire à l’occasion de son concert à Toulouse :

* Un nouveau morceau, sans titre actuellement, d’une durée de dix minutes.

* Félicité THÖSZ, d’une durée de 25 minutes.

* Un autre thème (dont le nom de travail est "Le Gospel") devrait faire rapidement son apparition...


( 13 confidences — Confide in me... )

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