"The Art of Conceptual Noise"
By Jorge Luis FernándezLast May, while the majority of the Argentinians were relishing on TV the success of basketball star Emanuel Ginobili, champion of the league with this team the San Antonio Spurs, a minority group were similarly enjoying Pacalirte Sorban Cumanos: the last CD Reynols of ‘songs'; another accomplishment of the trio's timelessness and uncompromising music. But two months before, there was a different, unpleasant scenario when at the onset of the Iraq war, the group was expelled from England, during their second European tour. Even though the group showed the officers their invitations to play, they were refused entry into the country for not having labor permission. Consequently, they were locked for five hours in a room, before they were allowed to return to Paris. The incident brought immediate protests to the authorities, and support to Reynols from English musicians and critics alike. But it left a bitter taste in everyone's mouth, especially Alan Courtis, with whom I was initially talking in the first floor of the group's Academia, a building site used for rehearsals, as well as an educational place where they introduce special children in areas like music or painting.
Alan Courtis: Though we know we went to England at the wrong time, it's true to say that we were discriminated (against). So now we're gonna make a record with the noise of the sanctioned passports. It'll be a work made with us touching the papers, and with the sound amplified, treated and distorted. The passport record will be kind of therapy; to transmute this weird experience into something productive. Besides, it was very important the support we get from musicians and journalists. Ed Pinsent (editor of The Sound Projector magazine) said he was ashamed of being English. He said: "We'll meet one day, even if I have to found my own country" (laughs). Things like that; very strong and supporting. Intelligent English people are always very caustic. I love that. In fact, we wanted an English label to release this record; and so came an offer from Riot Season. Surely, it'll be titled Banned In England (laughs).
Reynols is famous for having a lot of projects being simultaneously recorded and released. And after the release of the second, awaited collaboration with Pauline Oliveros (The Minecxio Connection: Live At Rosendale Cafe), there's still a handful of recordings -dozens, in fact- kept in the can. One of their long delayed releases is Reynols Plays The Eiffel Tower And L'Arc D'Triomph that will be released as a transparent vinyl single by the American label Black Bean & Placenta. It was made following the same pattern of the passport record. While in Paris, the musicians rasped, rubbed, and beaten up both the Eiffel Tower and l'Arc D'Triomph, with the recordings electronically treated after that. According to Alan, journalist Dan Warburton said jokingly that they were the first group to play with the Eiffel Tower as an instrument. The same could be said of the Atomium, the huge Belgian construction wich received similar treatment, and inspired another of their Reynols Plays series.
AC: The Atomium was beaten rather hardly; we shook him a lot! (laughs). It's like an electro-acoustic, or noise work made with the Atomium recordings. We also ‘played' with the Cabaret Voltaire, and with a statue in Zurich. A lot of recordings were done in that manner, and we yet have to download them to start processing. The last tour kick-started a lot of projects; they're always useful for generating ideas. Also, we've got a lot of Live In recordings. Live In Copenhaguen and Live In Stavanger; both has just been released. We've got a fruitful time in Norway. There we got to this idea of Snowise: noise generated by snow recordings. Simply, we spend an afternoon throwing snowballs at the recorders (laughs).
Of course, Snowise is another of the projects waiting to be realized. Perhaps the most fascinating of their ‘conceptual' phase is the recordings of Cacerolazo: the popular manifestations that took place in Buenos Aires in December 2001, that ended with (former president) Fernando De la Rúa resignation. Named in a rather awkward, if spontaneous manner, the manifestations consisted of hundreds of people banging a cooking pot while walking the streets in sign of protest. It was an opportunity Reynols wasn't going to miss. Given their innate capabilities to capture a unique moment and transform it into music, the group made recordings along several parts of the city, and after following the progressive steps of processing they created an invaluable ambient/noise record. It features a cacophony of banging cooking pots gradually decomposing to a point were only a hiss is left, and the bangs are virtually inaudible. It is one of Reynols' winning cards to noise heaven.
AC: The release was delayed for various reasons. There were a lot of people interested in it, but none of them were in a big hurry. We wanted it to be released last year. Now, probably it's gonna be released by a Norwegian label by the end of 2003.
Also, the group amassed hundreds of rehearsal hours playing without a net, captured in tape and waiting to be mixed-up. Though stripped off their beloved conceptual basis, another interesting project is their collaboration with Daddy Antogna, ex drummer of Ave Rock and Orion's Beethoven: two powerful Argentinean rock groups of the seventies. Antogna was left with his lower body paralysed after an accident in 1981, but this didn't stop him playing only with his arms. Anyone aware of Reynols sympathy towards disabled people won't be surprised by the group's choice. What's surprising is the way they transform anything into gold. It's one of the tapes I had the opportunity to listen, when suddenly I heard a storm of noise bursting out from holding up speakers, with a furious drumming leading the storm like a twister. It was fire music à la Reynols; and it'll probably be a future classic: one of their greatest recordings since noise highlights like In The Arms Of Reynols, Blank Tapes or Roto Chivas -their original, static take on krautrock that defined their singular approach to rock music.
AC: After his accident, Daddy was left in a wheelchair, and he was committed to the work of rehab. Thankfully, his wife is an occupational therapist, so he was carefully controlled all the time. And also thankfully, he's got a strong will to live. Think of this: out of the thirty muscles that connect the forearm to the hand, he was left with only two. And he plays incredibly well. So we recorded several sessions, and now we're checking the takes in order to have half the record mastered. It's gonna be an improvised record; a weird one.
Like a free-lance writer, Alan's always thinking about new connections to be made between his projects and the dozens of labels he's working with. With an official discography closing to a hundred releases, and given the disperse (besides international) origins of Reynols's body of work, it's hardly difficult to collect everything the group recorded in their ten years of existence. The impossibility is aggravated by the fact that, even in compilations, Reynols never delivers a released track. There are people who want everything; but they must know that such an enterprise is impossible given the group's own politics of recording.
AC: What happens is, I guess, that our concept is actually very expansive; even at a generic level. We elude concentration of every kind. Obviously, most of our records are sound-art; and, for instance, our collaborations with Pauline are stocked in the classical files of the stores. On the other hand, we have a top one theme in a space-rock English site (www.space-rock.co.uk). Is the MP3 file most required! And, you know, we're not strictly a space-rock band (laughs). One track is "7 Apoloca Baluba," from Pacalirte, and it was held three weeks on the first position. It's pretty weird.
In the middle of the interview appeared Roberto Conlazo. Wearing his trademark huge sunglasses, half sleep (he was sleeping until then, in fact), he brought us a handful of publications were Reynols were interviewed. He stared at me laughing loudly. And with good reasons. The breadth of the scope was appalling: from a Japanese noise magazine, to a People-style Argentinean glossy magazine, quizzical about the group's bizarre outlook. From an American journal to a hand-written letter from an Egyptian fan who was drooling to see them live. The international devotion they get is unbelievable, particularly for themselves.
Roberto Conlazo: During a fly (over) to New York, I jokingly said to Alan: what if we appeared in the New York Times? And then there we were: a couple of dates announced, doubling the size of an article about Neil Young! We constantly receive proposals from European, Japanese and American labels. And nobody here ever showed any interest in us. So it's natural that, reciprocally, we never showed any interest in working with Argentinean labels. Besides, a lot of them have prejudices with Miguel, while most of our records were released by people unaware of his special capabilities. The only record released here was the first, Gordura Vegetal Hidrogenada: the record without a record. Wich is a great record, because it embraces everything! Everybody has it (laughs). Here, it's incredible to hear things about people that never listened our music. And when they said we're awful, I reply that they're awful too, ‘cause they belong to the awfulness of Gordura Vegetal Hidrogenada.
While we were amusingly talking, I lifted my head to watch Miguel Tomasin, the Down Syndrome guru of experimental music, who was standing there from the beginning of the interview. He was gazing sideways, moving his feet a little. But most of the time he left his butt firmly attached to the heater in that rather cold morning. Of course, he was smart enough not to get a flu. Miguel distracted himself cherishing Roberto's cat, or fumbling through the room. But he was well convinced that he was there to be interviewed about ‘his' group. After all, that's what Alan told him. And he has something to say about the label Reynols got as a ‘sushikraut music' (a mix of krautrock and Japan psychedelic noise).
Miguel Tomasin: Sushikraut is a shampoo's label (laughs). That's not quite right about Reynols. But they're fantastic. The band; I mean, mine. I'm here from the last ten years. I invented them. In the year 19... 1000!!! (burst of laughter).
AC: Things like that exceeds our imagination. Miguel says incredible things all the time, so we are always taking note of his thoughts. And then, his thoughts became projects, like the 10.000 Chickens Symphony.
To fully understand Courtis and Conlazos's appreciation of Tomasin, one has to attend a concert with the group in its complete format. The interlocking of energy and flow of ideas is so amazing, that only in that way any observer can realize Reynols' true potential. Just as in movies a boxer gets courage when he sees his lover in a corner, Reynols get power and inspiration from the sudden impulses of Miguel. There's nothing mandatory or well thought-out. I tell them that I perceive mutual affection and understanding as the drive that throws the group into the unknown.
AC: Not a lot of people talk about that, and I think that's quite interesting. There's a kind of joy seeing how contented Miguel is. Because if he's not contented, we've got not reasons to play. He's got to enjoy it, and we don't conceive a mutual relationship without affection. I'm sure he changed us a lot. He helped us to explore unknown places inside ourselves. I mean, if you're going to improvise, and your goal is to be as free as possible, obviously then, there's no more efficient way than working with Miguel. And the joy is manifested in the records...
RC: Besides, he destroys bad intentions, reasoning and ego. Some people say we're taking advantage of him, but it's them who had their minds rotten. Ask Miguel... Hey, Miguel, do we exploite you?
MT: No!!! How are you telling me that?
RC: It was a joke, Miguel...
MT: I don't like lies. Look, I've got an idea about a band who was successful 30 years ago. They sang "Despeinada Twist," but nobody has any notion about them now.
Though not always evident, it's clear that Reynols has a powerful lysergic side. When Alan multi-tracks Miguel Tomasin's voice, varispeeding his dialogues with dirge singing in the background, the results are ghostlier than the complete Sun City Girls' Carnival Folklore Resurrection series. And then, the mantras Miguel often sings cushioned by Alan and Roberto's guitars are the closest any band can get to the highlights of Can in their Damo Suzuki years. This is illustrated by the aforementioned "7 Apoloca Baluba," an eight minutes juggernaut of ecstatic feedback, floating drums and wailing vocals. For this ‘rock' side, the group works with a singular logic. They usually instruct Miguel to start singing a popular tune, and after his initial impetus the ululating voice is joined by a flow of guitars and effects, finally becoming a magma of iridescent sound. By then, Tomasin's original melody isn't recognized. "Fincoll (Que Norar)," for example, is rooted in "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" and Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria." And track 5 of the "..." album appears as a brutal deconstruction of "Sólo Le Pido A Dios," a local classic written by Argentinean folk-rock hero León Gieco. But the songs are so distorted that, to unravel its basis, it depends sometimes on a discriminating listener.
Alan Courtis: Miguel started playing drums when he was three years old. He had a toy-drum...
Miguel Tomasin: And now I've got 39 drums! (laughs). I love to play live, because lots of people always come to salute me.
Alan Courtis: When we meet him, he introduced himself saying he was a very famous drummer (laughs). And he's also great at inventing words (almost every instrument, song and album title came from Tomasin's inspiration). The important thing about the articles written on Miguel and us, leaving aside specialized media, is that they could probably change the life of a special kid's father. Because this way, a father can probably realize that his son can actually do special things. And special kids are a big number: between 5% and 10% of the global population.
In the meantime, Alan, Roberto, and Patricio Conlazo (Robertos's brother, and fourth member of the band) are actively working with close to ten special children in the Academia. The fruits of their work will bring another record; a new chapter in Reynols' unabated collection.
RC: All the kids have a unique talent, and it's very different from each other. To explain this magic, you'd have to ask yourself why all the kids are painters in kindergarten. And why they quit painting when they're growing old. I think the real artist is the one who can preserve intact that instinct, and can upgrade it while he's growing.
AC: Thinking about this, I'm sure that working with Miguel and the kids, like Ruben and Juan Manuel, changed our lives completely. The problem is, most of the Argentinean bands want to be like their English counterparts. Instead, we want to be Argentineans; we're contented to be what we are. We aren't pretending to be Europeans. We molded our path with what we have, however limited can be our means. That leads us to discover a lot of things in the process. Miguel teaches us that.
MT: We are Argentineans!
A long time ago, I friend of mine told me a strange idea she had about the way Reynols works. It was, she ventured, the fantasies of Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human made flesh: a Gestalt-like relationship formed by a tribe of outcasts (Alan, Roberto and Patricio) submitted to the powerful mega-mind of a baby (Tomasin). The morning I spent with them convinced me that the parallels drawn by her were half right: their relationship was truly more than human... though in another way. In the end, Reynols may transcend their original ideas and timelessness, invigorating music. But what remains true to their hearts, and to the people that surround them is the bond of pure love that connects Courtis, the Conlazos, Tomasin and the other special kids. As Roberto put it this way: "Ruben has told me something fabulous. He said 'I want to be with myself.' And that's fantastic! Because nobody says something like that. Nowadays, sadly, nobody's happy to be with himself."
Communique from from the band
Hope all is fine there. We would like to let you know that Reynols' life-cycle has come to its natural end.
Anyway, there are still some forthcoming records under that name, with stuff we recorded in 2003 and before. And we have around 100 or 200 hours of recorded stuff that will appear sooner or later: enough for anybody not to miss the band too much in the coming years.
This is not a traumatic decision, we are all still friends and we feel that to end a project in the right moment is the best way to keep its spirit alive... We will go on playing with Miguel Tomasin on the Sol Mayor Project, playing classic rock covers only in benefit gigs for schools and disability institutions. And we will probably develop some other different projects in the future.
We want to thank all the people that supported us over the past years: labels, magazines, bands, journalists, musicians, venues, festivals, radios, TV shows, web-sites, foundations, universities, sound technicians, producers, photographers, record shops, distributors, audiences, and friends in general. We also want to thank our detractors because they were also part of this meaningful learning experience.
And mind we are talking about Reynols' terrestrial death: the band will always be alive in Minecxio. So head that way whenever you feel like paying them a visit.
Buenos Aires, January 2004
Also see Alan Courtis' article on his Telematic concert with Pauline Oliveros
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