Perfect Sound Forever

Art Zoyd: 1976 to 1987
An 11-Year Storm - Part 1

Photo © Em Valette 2006, courtesy of the Art Zoyd site

A semi-coherent aesthetic rant in the paranoid-critical manner
by Mark Tucker
(February 2007)

PREFACE: In 1993/1994, the Andy Warhol Foundation was to have published a book on the 1968 French Student Revolt and its reflection in progressive musics. I was asked - along with Gilli Smyth, Dean Suzuki, and others - to contribute. Like so many such projects, one weird happenstance after another eventuated, and the tome never saw print. Now, fourteen years later, in revised form, I'm presenting the piece publicly for the first time.

The avant-garde is not defined by a particular community
or ideology. It is an intermittant expression
of galvanized dissatisfaction...

Echoing the localized pains of France in the '60's, an ages-old self-propagating cabal, otherwise dubbed the New World Order, is presently imposing its template upon the world via history's most flagrantly abusive system of croney capitalism, the viper's nest of American business conglomerates infesting and gamahuching such implementational devices as the State Dept., Defense Dept., Atty. General's office, and so on. In point of fact, under this antediluvian neoconservative fascism, the U.S. has become a Maoist collective of grotesquely skewed ersatz "socialistic" impulses taken to solipsistic extremes. That alone would seem to call for revolution, yet we don't apprehend even the most minute germinal seed of that, do we? What France once briefly erupted against, we bed down in. Still, the relativity of the two environments prompts one to ponder: while the sheep graze, is anyone monkey-wrenching the program? Only two venues could possibly supply the means: comedy and art. Comedy we'll leave for The Onion, art will be tackled here.

"But...but..but...politics!!!" I hear shrilly from the gallery, "Politics!!!" How quaint. How rural. No, no, no, politics created the mess - do you really expect it to do aught but vivify another fubar?

"If you want them to act reasonably,
you must set about persuading them
in a maniacal manner..."

Nearly four decades ago, the birth pangs of a modern version of the Jurassic problem was battled to little effect, as has been recorded. Following after every nation plagued by its own innumerable malfeasants, the French - a la Monsieur Voltaire and a chorus line of estimables (Rousseau, Zola, Diderot, and sundry intellectuals unaccustomed to eating merde) - have ever been resistive to tyranny, rarely content to sit long in its face, students no less than hoary literateurs. Young sophiste academics had their brief moment to roar in the '60's - very briefly as it turned out - and what caught the spastic attention of the world in that was the unity, youth, and rather surprising small strength of the action. It had been unexpected, rose swiftly, and died almost before leaving the womb, but not without tracing an engram in the sidebars to history's endless text.

However, that lack of success wasn't a reflection upon the act of resistance per se. To the contrary, it was in perfect concord with any nature of disobedience sparked by intentioned reaction. Thus, the Parisian Student Revolt was a matter of what Dali would have called "the embryons" registering a first tectonic shift for later more palpable backlashes. Amongst its abettors, at least in spirit, was the Rock In Opposition movement, whose sire is said to be the ever-impressive percussionist Chris Cutler. About this interesting enclave, actually just a number of loosely kindred ensembles operating under a marketing label coined by the gent, little has been properly espoused in North America, hence hard and fast relations are a trifle difficult to draw. Paris, however, wasn't the only town in the land of Voltaire; there were many boroughs whose ties to boiling passions were equally secure.

Back in the day, away from the metropolis, Rocco Fernandez had initiated a soon-to-be dark and threatening ensemble - in 1968, according to one site, or 1969, if we heed another - in what has been variously reported as either Mabouge or Valenciennes. Thierry Zaboitzeff is said by some writers to have been his partner in progenitorship, though he's not mentioned by others. In fact, a reliably coherent genesis for anything verifiable in the nascency of this band is frustratingly difficult to locate. We'll therefore content ourselves in registering the disparities on their face, reflecting proper thematic chaos. Eurock, a typical prog-wank fanzine, never a reliable source for much of anything save whatever product the publisher might be flogging at the moment, avoided the issue entirely, twice, in issues #9 (Spring '79) and #22 (Spring '83). Even with connections, I, researching the article, couldn't avail myself of AZ members in '93; therefore, no first-hand data is related here. Nonetheless, the startup cognomen was... well, either Art Zoyd or Art Zoyd III, depending on whom you read. Prog "journalism," go figure.

This much, however, is undisputed: the original project had been thrown together to create Zappa-esque opuses, an ideation rapidly dropped as musicians began to flow in and out of the locus. In a little over a decade's time, 30 would arrive and exeunt. The real sobriquet, according to a 45 issued by the Chant du Monde label, shows the combo as 'Experimental Music.' That label's PR ironically provided the group's permanent moniker, commenting that what Fernandez & Co. were producing was "bizarroide," from which 'Arzoide' was composed, soon morphing into 'Art Zoyd.' That, at least, is the generally accepted story; you might be able to dream up a better one. Whatever the truth of it, 1971 became the pivotal year wherein Zaboitzeff and Gerard Hourbette landed upon a decidedly different approach for the still amorphous unit.

It would be five long years before that decision would bear tangible fruit, but those who'd had the fortune to contrast the concert appearances of the '71 and '76 line-ups remarked upon startling changes. What had once been a disporting gaggle of field hippies melding rock, jazz, classical, and free musics became a maelstromic demon. The influence of the pragmatically anarchistic RIO collective had worked a politico-philosophical effect which informed the manifesto-oriented ensemble towards hard-edged psychologies and harshly melodious sturm und drang. Whatever the original zany ideas may have been, they'd been firmly 86'ed, replaced by deadly serious Marxian musical agitprop abetted through side-manifestos and various paraphenalia. Eurock #10 (Fall '79) exposed a doggerel tract (probably the result of faulty translation by its halfwit publisher, but perhaps not) that was almost shocking in its stereotypicality: one couldn't help but envision a klatsch of bearded wild-eyed university professors raving, gesticulating, and pounding their rostrums - nostrils flared, sweat pouring forth, faces rubicund with semi-mannered apoplexy.

The Etron Fou ensemble was rather amused by it and issued its own credo, commenting on the antic screed thusly: "The Zoydian Manifesto set us to thinking, and [...] it is perhaps good to clarify certain words, at the risk of being serious (a catastrophe). This could be funny." However, the subtext of the Zoyd's simultaneously strident and mannered ejaculation was revolutionary and socialistic. Revolution is, sooner or later, a semi-coherent expression of mass dissatisfaction, only unconsciously grasped by the exterior herd until a focus is elucidated carefully to it. Those cultivating the revolt are most often few, headstrong, confident, convicted, courageous, and, above all, dedicated to perseverence.

There's good reason for this. The mass is interested only in personal profit (money, goods, sex, status) while ideologues remain stolid to social constructs or the individual's presence within one. The mass' profit is materiality, the revolutionary's is transformation. The society is content to wait for its wage but the anarchist needs change now, strongly, overwhelmingly, ongoingly. Why? Because metamorphosis is itself only a penultimate situation. What's really desired is an environment where expression is uncensored, uninhibited, non-discouraged, and appreciated... or, at the very least, allowed without unnecessary limitations. Basically, an anarchist - and one not immersed in Bakunian aggie regressionism - should most fervently desire a society in which artists can live. With les idiotas supremas Derrida, Foucault, and others, anarchism has been modernly bent to meet its Capitalist master half-way, eschewing the life of the mind and spirit merely for another system of governance expedient to the governors... but not so obviously as was the case in the past, a way of harvesting the wheat more efficiently without using the whip too lavishly. This was not the route Art Zoyd took. They appear to have been Chomskian.

To a man and woman, the members of AZ have always been highly articulate: penetrating, refined, insightful, and honest, if occasionally a trifle cliché, having fed a bit too indiscriminately at the paranoid-critical teat of the surrealists, a skosh too eager to ape daddy Breton, paternalism aiding neither compostional nor instrumental execution. The Zoydians have ever been a pack of artistic pitbulls staking out and defending territory, carrying forward with relentless fervor. The audience's part in the bargain is a willingness to be terrorized into at least temporary enlightenment. The encounter's roughly benevolent and spirito-imperialistic, a marauding of the psyche, a synching up of the group mind to the individualist's vision.

"Art is meant to disturb..."
-Georges Braque

At Art Zoyd concerts, preconceptions and security are illusions standing in inconterminably precarious half-light, nervous substances unalignable to the unfettered mind. Thus, a small cerebral shift has to occur. The listener must turn away from narcotic concensus realities, embracing rather than avoiding pain, eschewing cathode nightmare-fixes carefully crafted to simulate abusive pleasures. In bondage is where humanoids find solace for wonts to sloth and irresponsibility; therefore, very little could be secure in the sense most know through antiquated methods. Any shred of retreat into the humdrummeries of corporate muzakality become reviled, shat upon, hammered into the waiting earth for conversion, poisons neutralized by Nature's relentless entropic processes. Whatever's rescued from the ash-heap is transmuted into sardonic musical devices reflecting the malignancy of Industrial Creatures. The lesson's imparted through unwavering tiradery, neither part nor parcel of the process but rather its center, a live and beating heart. Whatever's on the collective raging mind is brought to the stage, whether audients prefer it or not. The whim of the public isn't to the point. It's not even a distant afterthought.

This is why the Zoyd collective has succeeded, aesthetically if not monetarily, where others have failed. Ill-conceived forays of faux creatives elsewhere manifested in the too-proliferent neo-bonehead environs of quasi-prog and had been playing themselves out, dying eternally, thrashing in simulations of consciousness, omnivorously ravening through corpse vehicles that may have seemed immortal, receiving neither acquiescence nor rejection but only the bovine narcotized stare of the form's obese adherents - that is: progbusiness as usual.

In this could be no social transmission, neither to the goal of the collective beast nor individual sanity. In such a wake, the revealed construct of a reputedly illuminated genre turned out to have been grossly material, zombified, a dystopia based on artificial psych-damaged want rather than a paradise of met aesthetic needs.

That was the power of these ennervating pseudo-musics: pipe-dreams of universal solvents to labyrinthine problems within a vast ocean of a knuckle-dragging humanity shackled with wildly varying convictions, every one of which had been whelped through antecedent sophomoric fallacies (free markets, rational objectivism, etc.) and dip musics (editor-trogs strenuously arguing The Mamas and Papas as progressive fare,etc.). In essence, the sum was merely the blowback of concentrated wish fulfillment. Infantilism lay atop blueprints for evolution, resulting in vast primordial visions of blisteringly toxic byproducts.

This was not good.

It goes without saying that any least manifestation of transmutation is an entablature of vision, with doom-mongering the inferential chum-bait, a credo uninformed by comic books or dime novels, a Nietzscheanistic and Kafkan symphony of anticipated malevolent absurdities squirrelled away in futurist mythmaking. A meeting ground can be forced, with a syncresis of philosophy and pragmatism simplistically reconciling within, but that's only the Disneyland of embryons en milieu.

This was the down-spiralling general prog landscape after only a few prime years, a misfortune that grew and grew and grew, never diminishing. Against such aesthetic wastelands near or far, then, was the Parisian Student Revolt truly a catalyst? Hardly. One shouldn't mistake a hiccough for Armageddon or Advent. Laying a road between the two inevitably brings to life ubiquitous enigmas, best summed up in a trinary aggregate amongst myriad possibilities. What needed to be looked at was:

1) the question of how to conquer the larger audience's apathetic retrogressive acclimation to mindless beatmaking or power-chording,

2) the courting of bloated parasitical media, and

3) Art itself.

There is, however, a root dichotomy. To achieve a viable recrudescing niche in the public's lowest awareness (the market), one must change into, or assume the function of, an entity doting on cancer: a businessmen. That's a repugnant task. In other words, artists must become not only creators but also dissemination machines and mercantiles - homunculi, in other words, the sort of beasts with whom one can otherwise only affect a quintessentially uneasy, mostly paralyzing, relationship. Nor does this connote anything so simple as creating handbills and collecting tickets for an impromptu gig, which may have been feasible from the mid-'60's through the early '70's but is now logistically and legally impossible, requiring instead a conquest of the environment, a good deal more than a temporary semi-occupancy in a small part of it.

Worse, though perverted by the sort of opportunism which created the rift in the first place, these are all still-valid functions turned inimical to the propagation of Art. The artist is unprepared for the roles. His is a creator's, not a businessman's, pose, often requiring much huger losses than any business would be willing to shoulder. Plenty can go awry, out of one's direct control, out of one's knowledge. How then, sans the standard showcasing machinery, to display an artwork and a credo precipitating change? In Art Zoyd's case, the method was and still is characteristically deceptive.

Since the ear of business cannot be bent, with the audience lost in its slumbers, the ensemble simultaneously sidestepped and subsumed both jobs in refusing to popularize or adjourn to more convenient schedules within other possibly more profitable ventures: raising revenues, establishing a degree of fame while endangering the group through sugary product sating the audience's appetite for mediocrity, and so on. Sometimes, there's no alternative to just forging ahead in what may be, or only seem to be, a non-regenerating course. Anxiety-laden, to be sure, but for such restless humanoides unhappy with art, society, the culture, and indeed the planet, the only option was to dig in the pedal extremities, laboring against gales of pressure zones, and slog forward. Resist, conform, or go home. AZ chose the first and became the quasi-mannered juggernaut it has been. It was a matter of perseverence.

"A desperate disease
requires a dangerous remedy."
Guy Fawkes

In this condition, the question of the Student Revolt is mooted; the Zoydians had become their own revolution - thugh they might even now grimace at the jingoism of such a sentiment. The young academic surge had been thwarted, eaten up, ground to insubstantiality by the enormity, the impossibility, of shoving a too-dispersed and not-altogether-acceptable menu of culture onto a society sharing almost none of its dreams, too little of its visions of integrated social welfare, and perhaps only one or two of its palpable discontents. AZ held a common sense view: work one day at a time and slowly accrue a substantial enough audience to somewhat guarantee an ability to continue the process without wasting overmuch time and sweat on the distractive necessities we all face as the industrialized versions of the hunter-gatherer. What, after all, are revolutions if not successive extensions of the desire to replace brutish requisites with leisure and the work of self-expression? From there, one proceeds to the next step and the next step and...

But, like the subject of the music itself, the issue's a bit subtler. One gets the feeling, reading interviews with the band's personnel, that, were they to be underwritten by the Arts department of the French government - an act probably against the band's nature in any event - it'd be the sort of irony members could smirk at while accepting, freed from the worrisome potential of starving in pursuit of Ma'amselle Muse. With that, perhaps large audiences would show up... eventually... though one could only view this as sheerest fantasy. The band would never sacrifice its sophistication to attain to lemmingmania. Miles Davis and Philip Glass come to mind.

Miles, the pre-eminant genius of modern jazz was never a huge seller despite the disseminative hocus-pocus concocted in industry flog-hype. He couldn't be. Within the music-buying public, only a very small percentage possessed the mental and aesthetic discernment to appreciate his work. As Clive Davis made well known, the trumpeter's value to Columbia Records lay mostly in the commodity of prestige. Having him aboard attracted attention and sanctified the label, its staff, and the recruiters. The trumpeters' presence spoke elegantly to the public in terms of glamour and notoriety, making it a hell of a lot easier to coax prospective musical consignees, especially the reticent ones, to wake up and take notice. Artists came on board far more swiftly when one could point to Miles as a member of the team.

The same is true of Glass. He's always been appreciated by a small cognoscenti but that doesn't reflexively infer anywhere near as much as it should in terms of lucre. Before deification, the situation was far worse. Early in his career, as a young lion at Juliard, a recipient of grants without even breaking a sweat, he decided to eschew the classicalist formalism that had his teachers creaming their collective jeans, striking out on his own. The opprobrium that followed was harsh and immediate; the composer became the Lord of the Flies.

Art Zoyd made the same decision - art, not ease - but hadn't been born under a lucky star. No wealthy onlookers attended the rebellion. Any appeal to both live and passive (home) audiences would spring from a raw kindredness with intellectuals and iconoclasts, already the bulk of their laity, but not to the scions of social niceties or trend-mongering. In any realistic assessment, one had to understand that they'd never get the audience they merited, would fill neither stadium nor large hall, and probably not even a medium-sized venue, but that this would be no detriment to a deserving cult status or to the music. In fact, in the pathology of the worship, the obscurer something becomes or the more mysterious, the better. Again, the genre is infested with proglodytes. Few intellects can be located, but, until that sector grew, if ever, at least the puerility of rarification helped - the sort of thing one witnesses in crit adherents of musics they haven't a clue about ("Sun Ra, man, he's the bitchinest! Almost as good as Dr. John!!! Anyone got a Coors?").

To put the knife in with finality, given all this, did the Student Rebellion figure in? According to glassy-orbed glossalals, it did... but can that be considered? No. Art Zoyd spouted no doctrinal theologies, espoused no kindredness to cause and cross, had no little red books to wave, no New Age symbolry to hawk, no puppetlike fists of power to thrust impotently into the air, none of that. Those mechanisms were ridiculous and the band's entire raison d'etre went four-square against the continued infantilization of homo stupiens. The band operated from intellect, instinct, and elevated emotions constituted of hard work, imagination, maturity, integrity, and a cybernetic drowning of ego sacrificed to enhance creativity.

The rhetoric in Zoyd literature and encounters, neither of which is prolific, is revolutionary but of an idiosyncratic turn rather than allied to street-rabble agitation. Examining their oft-mercurial semantics, it's apparent that had the ill-starred college flare-up of '68 never occurred, it wouldn't have affected them in the least. They'd have remained a viable organism, not one whit diminished by the absence, their philosophy unchanged, their expresson unwaveringly constant. Hell, they started that year and not as an effect of political unrest but rather of dissatisfaction with creative issues.

It's also useful to keep in mind that the group is a functional whole, not a disparate aggregate of gloryhounding soloists. The individuals took a sardonic delight in maintaining the gulf between artistic exposition and media glamour-sickness. It would serve no purpose to point to one member or another and extol separate virtues, personalities, peculiar genius, founding fatherhood - especially because none of the founders remained - in other words: no sensationalistic exaltation, if you please. Leave the mirrors to the damaged.

Care must be exercised in approaching dogma and downbeat. Whatever the possibilities in such a marriage, each remains its own entity, but there are subtleties and dualities as the mind determines other political undertones beneath the craftsmanship. Caution should be observed that the observer's inner doctrines not spill out, assuming a conflation unnatural to external discovery. The revelation is that, even with so much available in speculation, the music itself contains the politics, and a grim set at that.

NEXT ISSUE: More raison d'etre, more manifestation, and the music.

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