Piero Scaruffi Notes
I should make an entire fansite about Piero Scaruffi, but I'm too lazy, so here's my page for Scaruffi commentary and links, mostly regarding music. I welcome comments, questions, and additions. See also my Scaruffian History of Video Games.
6.5/10 or Better Albums Available for Free Download
The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Methodrone, Take It From the Man, Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request, Strung Out In Heaven, Bringing It All Back Home Again, Bravery Repetition & Noise, Thank God For Mental Illness [download]
Snippets from my Conversations with Scaruffi
L: Your recent movie ratings on the "Best Movies of 20XX" pages confuse me. Each page says that it averages the opinions of your favorite critics plus your own, but the "favorite critics" link takes the reader to a page of general review resources. Who are your favorite critics? And, why do you not let your readers see YOUR ratings?
S: Those are "my" ratings. The rule is simple: if i have seen the film, my ratings prevail; if i have not seen the film, i use the opinions of the critics that i deem more likely to have given the ratings that i would give. The way i chose the critics is my own rating: it depends on the film. For example, Belardinelli is a good critic, but he is too clumsy when it comes to foreign films. Erbert is a generic good source, but i would never trust only his opinion. Sight & Sound (which is not online) is a strong source for foreign films. The way i choose the critics to judge a film is very subjective, and usually does reflect my own ratings: when i finally see a film, i rarely have to change the rating too much.
L: Do you believe there has been a general quality decline in rock-related music this decade? I ask because, for example, you have rated 154 albums of the 1990s at 8/10 or higher, and only 6 albums of the 2000s at 8/10, and none higher. Is this because the decade is only half complete, it takes a while for the cream to rise (at least, to your attention), since the 2000s you've spent less time than in the past on rock music, etc., or do you sense a genuine decline in the quality of rock-related music, despite an undeniable incline in the number of music-makers?
S: It's an unfair question. The quality that you are referring to is about albums, right? The album in 1969 collected the best material of the artist (sometimes the best of many years). Today CDs are so cheap to make that musicians don't even rehearse before making a CD. So you are comparing two media that are actually very different: the album that went through a painful selection process and that cost a lot of money to make, and the album that goes through no selection process because it's so cheap to make. Needless to say, the former is higher quality than the latter... I doubt anyone will ever make a 9/10 album again. We are living the transition to a new medium. Then we will have to change the way we rate music. Sometimes i think i should already do it now.
L: I'm glad your opinions may change over time. I'm curious about the reasons for your changing opinions. For example, in 1998 you listed Ummagumma, Neu 2, Thaw, Daydream Nation, and Faust IV in your top 25 albums of all time, but now they are rated 7.5, 7.5, 7.0, 8.0, and 8.0, respectively. Why did your opinion change? Did you find earlier innovations that made these albums less impressive? Did you give another listen and reformulate your opinion? Did you read a review that changed your opinion?
S: In some cases it's just trivial mistakes that don't get corrected until someone makes me realize they are mistakes: Ummagumma: i've always been undecided how to rate it (the live album is 7/10, the studio album is at least 8/10). Neu 2: for many years my review of Neu 2 was actually the review of Neu 1. Thaw: i keep confusing Hole, Nail and Thaw. Daydream Nation: if this one was ever in the top20, i'm surprised. Faust IV: for many years i did not listen to Faust I, but when i relistened to it i decided that it is much superior to IV, so i replaced IV with I in the list (but that doesn't mean that IV is not worth it!). Most of this process happened when i finilized my book A History of Rock Music because i was relistening to a lot of albums in the right sequence, therefore i could create a uniform rating system. Please remember that the lists and ratings are not my main activity. I spend most of my time writing and listening. Once i compile a list, or write a rating, i rarely doublecheck it.
L: Let's say every album of music (all genres) released from 1951-2007 was recorded and released in August 1951. Which, then, would be the the most impressive albums? How would you even begin to judge them?
S: Same list as the current one.
L: Is your choice for #1 rock song for 2005, "Dubi Dam Dam" by Banaroo, a joke?
S: No, it's a masterpiece.
"Missing" Artist Profiles
Norwegian sound artist Leif Inge produced 9 Beet Stretch (Table of the Elements, 2006), which transformed Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 into a soundscape by digitally stretching it to 20 times its original length. The magnifying glass allows new sight into the landmark Romantic work, and the piece also functions as a whole new kind of ambient music. The method will be repeated easily and irresponsibly, but this is one of the few significant "cover" albums ever produced.
Belgian band Die Anarchistiche Abendunterhaltung's debut, Die Anarchistiche Abendunterhaltung! (1995, Jack & Johnny Recording), was original music but sounded like a Belgian folk ensemble covering sub-par 70s prog rock. In later albums, the band played mostly trivial vignettes of almost every genre imagineable: We Need New Animals (1998, Sony Classical), Life Transmission (2001, Columbia), and Tub Gurnard Goodness (2004, Radical Duke).
Max Richter's pop minimalism on Memoryhouse (2003, BBC Legends) and The Blue Notebooks (2004, Fat Cat) came even closer to the Classical era's formal perfection than Terry Riley or Philip Glass.
Manfred Schunke and Klaus Schulze (Sand) recorded Golem (1974, Delta Akustik), an album of creative but empty cosmic krautrock and folk. Ultrasonic Seraphim (1996, United Durto) collects Golem and other tracks from the era. The duo also recorded, as Code III, Planet of Man (Delta Akustik, 1974), a more successful study of soundscapes.
Birmingham post-punk band The Au Pairs debuted with Gang of Four-influenced Playing with a Different Sex (1981, Human). Their funky bite dissipated on Sense and Sensuality (1982, Kamera).
Canadian band Intersystems released Number One (1967, Allied), with John Mills-Cockell providing avantgarde electronics and Blake Parker, a bizarre narrative over two lengthy tracks. Peachy (1967, Allied) features even sparser electronics, with a couple brief forays into something resembling psychedelic music. Free Psychedelic Poster Inside (1968, Allied) was more of the same.
Dwight Frizzell released Beyond the Black Crack (1976, Cavern Custom), credited to Anal Magic & Reverend Dwight Frizzell. The badly spliced noise and jazz music recalls Faust, predicts mid-career Nurse With Wound, and might be enjoyed by Hermann Nitsch.
Helsinki underground supergroup Sperm (Pekka Airaksinen, Mattijuhani Koponen, P.Y. Hiltunen, Antero Helander, J.O. Mallander, Markus Heikkero) released Shh! (1970, O; r: 1997, ORFB), a powerful ambient album of guitar and tape effects, containing Heinasirkat and a heavily (and wisely) cut version of the earlier Korvapolikliniikka Hesperia.
Italian avant-prog group Opus Avantra wrote prog songs that drew from rock and every era of classical music on Donella Del Monaco (1974, Trident), Lord Cromwell (1975, Suono), and Strata (1989, Artis).
Galactic Explorers recorded only Epitaph for Venus (1972, Repertoire), which basically remixed A Rainbow in Curved Air as ambiance.
Underground poet and performance artist Steven "Jesse" Bernstein toured the Seattle music scene in the 80s. He finally recorded his poetry performances at a correction center in 1991, ala At Folsom Prison. His drug-reinforced mental illness produced tirades of insane modern poetry. The factors that contributed to his art also led him to commit suicide before the album was finished. Producer Steve Fisk scored the existing tracks with jazz and ambient music, and released it as Prison (1992, Sub Pop).
Konono N°1 (full name: L'orchestre folklorique T.P. Konono N°1 de Mingiedi) was a collective of do-it-yourself musicians from Congo who used likembé, voices, and junk yard percussion "instruments", along with home-made amplification equipment, to play Congolese folk music with the voices of techno and punk music. They began performing in the late 70's, but went essentially unrecorded until Congotronics (2004, Crammed Discs). Lubuaku (2004, Terp) recorded a live performance in Holland. Congotronics 2 (2005, Crammed Discs) was a compilation of similar music from many artists.
Catherine Ribeiro's voice swung passiontely between Nico's, Tim Buckley's, and Meredith Monk's on Catherine Ribeiro + 2 Bis (1969, Festival), with her husband leading a group called Alpes to accompany her. She could not match her debut on Nr.2 (1970, Festival), Ame Debout (1971, Philips), Paix (1972, Philips), Le Rat Debile Et L'Homme Des Champs (1974, Philips), Libertes? (1975, Fontana), Le Temps De L'Autre (1977, Philips), Passions (1979), the disco-influenced La Deboussole (1980, Philips), or on any of her later albums without Alpes.
British occult group Don Bradshaw-Leather unleashed Distance Between Us (1972, Distance) without naming any members or contributors. The music is a demented circus of gothic horror, psychedelia, and tribal drumming.
Swiss blues-rock band Krokodil debuted with Krokodil (1969, Liberty). Psychedelic influences emerged in Swamp (1970, Liberty), An Invisible World Revealed (1971, United Artists), Getting Up for the Morning (1972, Bacillus), Sweat and Swim (1973, Bacillus), and Classic German Rock Scene (1975, Bacillus). A collection of live recordings and demos was released in 2005: The Psyechedlic Tapes (2005, Second Battle).
The National Gallery (1968, Philips) by The National Gallery was a pop/psych interpretation of Paul Klee's paintings. The moderately interesting track is Fear Behind the Curtain.
Devil Doll (an Italian/Slovenian project of Mr. Doctor, whose identity remains a mystery), crafted 60-minute dark-rock melodramas by collaging simplified forms of The Residents' demented ballads, the magniloquent atmospheres of James Thirwell, and the 80s darkwave of In the Nursery, and Penderecki. A single copy of The Mark of the Beast (1987, unreleased) was pressed and it remains unheard. The Girl Who Was ... Death (1989, Hurdy Gurdy), limited to 150 copies - some of them inlaid with Mr. Doctor's own blood - introduced his epic prog-goth to the public. Eliogabalus (1990, Hurdy Gurdy) and Sacrilegium (1992, Hurdy Gurdy) further elaborated the idea. The Sacrilege of Fatal Arms (1993, Hurdy Gurdy), a soundtrack to a movie of the same name by Mr. Doctor, was a more symphonic but less innovative work, basically a collage of cliches from oddly juxtaposed genres. In 1993, Mr. Doctor began recording another album, but the recording studio burned down and the work was not completed. Later, Mr. Doctor agreed to rerecord Dies Irae (1996, Hurdy Gurdy) with the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra, an album which finally evolved his musical ideas into song-like forms. For the most part, Devil Doll made cheap collages of (a) 80s prog-rock, (b) piano-led interludes featuring Mr. Doctor's sprechshang, and (c) cut-and-paste 20th century classical music. Nevertheless, Devil Doll wrote a rough draft of the desolate, gothic, neoclassical litanies to be later and better orchestrated by Black Tape for a Blue Girl, who wisely left behind his prog-metal influences to invent a new music.
Groundation played catchy, jazz and dub-frilled roots reggae on Each One Teach One (2001, Young Tree), Young Tree (2002, Young Tree), and Hebron Gate (2003, Young Tree). We Free Again (2004, Young Tree) is a concept album, but the music is no different than it has been for 30 years. Dub Wars (2005, Young Tree) and Upon the Bridge (2006, Young Tree) are no better.
Emily Bezar sings an orchestral Kate Bush on Grandmother's Tea Leaves (1993, Olio), flirts with smooth jazz and prog-rock on Moon In Grenadine (1998, DemiVox), plays easy-listening prog-rock ala Rick Wakeman on Four Walls Bending (1999, DemiVox), and sings a cross between Europop and Tori Amos on Angel's Abacus (2004, DemiVox).
Willis Alan Ramsey's defined a decade of country-folk on Willis Alan Ramsey (1972, Koch), and remains among the most imitated artists in that genre today.
Between the Buried and Me wrote technically skilled and eclectic but artistically bankrupt progressive death metal on Between the Buried and Me (2002, Lifeforce), The Silent Circus (2003, Victory), Alaska (2005, Victory), and Colors (2007, Victory). The Anatomy Of (2006, Victory) is a particularly lame cover album.
Best albums not mentioned by Scaruffi: Don Bradshaw-Leather - Distance Between Us (1972), The Au Pairs - Playing with a Different Sex (1981), Catherine Ribeiro - Catherine Ribeiro + 2 Bis (1969)