Good Music We Can Know

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Smell of Gasoline and Jungle Rot: Rhythm Devils- Apocalypse Now Sessions (1980)

Despite an obsessive love for Apocalypse Now and its music which goes back to my early teen years and has never abated in dozens of viewings, I had somehow never heard any of the "Rhythm Devils" recordings for the film (other than the earth-splitting stuff that accompanies the original version's closing footage of the burning camp) until very recently.  I'm pleased to say that I have now, because it's really, really awesome.

The Rhythm Devils was an ensemble put together by Grateful Dead percussionists Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann after being approached by Coppola to generate some music for Apocalypse Now.  While I generally find I have very little enthusiasm for anything Dead related, I have always reserved a respect for their double-drummer percussive odysseys, and that's what you get here, only better, more visceral and vital.  These sessions are brutal, seething, and amorphous, crawling with menace and insects.  Full of dread and nauseous adrenaline, stinking of gasoline and jungle rot.  They perfectly fit the film they were intended for–when sinking into these selections, it's impossible not to picture the chaotic, violent, primal exoticism of Kurtz's camp. 

They also used some pretty interesting custom instruments.  I'm just pasting from wikipedia, but it's cool to know:

"In addition to using a large collection of percussion instruments from around the world, provided by the various musicians, the Rhythm Devils constructed some new instruments. One of these was The Beast, an array of bass drums with different tones suspended from a large metal rack. After the recording of The Apocalypse Now Sessions, The Beast was incorporated into the "Drums" section of Grateful Dead concerts, an extended percussion duet performed by Hart and Kreutzmann in the middle of the second set of songs.

Another unusual percussion instrument built for the sessions, variants of which have been built and later used in Grateful Dead concerts and Mickey Hart's solo touring bands, was The Beam. This is a large aluminum I-beam (actually a "C" shaped beam facing down with the strings across the flat outside-top surface) strung with 13 bass piano strings all tuned to the note of D (a Pythagorean mono-chord at various octaves). The Beam has a heavy-duty bridge and string anchor at one end and a nut with tuning hardware at the other end. It has a movable magnetic pickup block to facilitate capture and transmission of various tonal qualities. The pickup block feeds a volume pedal and various audio effects units, which route the signals through an amplifier or sound system. The Beam generates a large variety of low frequency primary tones and harmonic overtones, and is played by hitting the strings with a percussion mallet, plucking the strings by hand or with a plectrum, scraping them with various implements (fingernails, plectrums, metal bars), or by pounding on the beam frame itself to induce a bell-like resonance of all the strings simultaneously."

This may or may not be a version of (or the inspiration for) "The Beam," in this case called "the Cosmic Beam," by the artist Francisco Lupica.  Feel free to inform me on this subject as I did the laziest, most perfunctory of research into it and then moved on.
Check it out.  Also, check out my radio show tomorrow night (Thursday Feb. 12), as I'll be playing a few selections from this record and a great deal of material sort of sonically/conceptually related to Apocalypse Now.

SESSIONS  (320) (1990 ryko reissue)


Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for this one. There is a little Deadhead in my heart, so this is a real treasure.

Anonymous said...

Excited about this one, both rip and radio. What a hilarious cover though. Is that a shark fin back there?


Flash Strap said...

I think it's a little boat! I thought it was a shark fin too. Not the best example of perspective

Michael said...

Flash, Mickey Hart's beam was strung with piano strings, had pickups for amplification and was played with a metal pipe that was held with both hands. Here's a picture of him playing it.


I have this album on vinyl.

-Uncle Michael

Hyde said...

holy crap! I bought this album when I was in high school, but I sold my disk many, many years ago. This'll be a great listen. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for sharing. nice copy, nice host,.. The music within is ultimately beyond mere expression. Regards.

the saucer people said...

Yep, I first saw Apocalypse Now as a young teenager in eighties Britain and dozens of viewings later, it is pretty much imprinted into my psyche and yet I had no idea this album existed - so I extend my gratitude and thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Wow! You mention, Francisco Lupica and his Cosmic Beam - Not a lot of people have heard of him, I got into his one and only album a few years ago because of the John C. Lilly reference - the album is incredible and I do remember seeing a rip of the album posted on a blog a while back - name escapes me at the moment, I can upload a rip I have if anyone is interested if they can't find it on the net.

Flash Strap said...

I would LOVE to hear that rip, Saucer Pal. I've never seen it anywhere before!

disconnected22 said...

"menace and insects"....I like that.

Thanks for posting