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)