(Album review, source unknown)
"On the Streets of New York"
Avenue of the Americas (51st Street); 2, West 46th Street; Lullaby (2,West 46th Street); Fog on the Hudson (425, West 57th Street); Utsu; On and Off the Beat; Chant; From One to Nine (Louis Thomas Hardin)
(London REP 1010)
LOUIS THOMAS HARDIN was born in Kansas in 1917. His parents were missionaries, and he travelled with them around the world, absorbing a great many diverse musical influences in early childhood. Most of his formative years were spent on an Indian Reservation in the American West.
At the age of 16 he became blind and ear, already acute, became sharpened in ratio to his dependence on the world of sound. He had learned to play most of the standard misson instruments - harmonium, organ, piano, clarinet, violin, viola, guitar, cello and double bass.
Now he began to build instruments of his own - mainly drums, gongs and other percussion instruments.
But his idea of percussion from the beginning was in terms of rhythm allied to pitch and tone colour. Some of his instruments were unprecedented in Oriental as well as European music. He had, and still has, an obsession about triangular shapes which is allied to his cabbalistic beliefs - he feels that only perfect shapes can issue perfect sounds.
A few years ago he married a Japanese singer with an extraordinarily wide range of voice - some three octaves - and the impact of her musical ideas on his own led to still further experiments in exploring musical avenues only rarely covered in "legitimate" modern music.
For years he earned his living as an itinerant street musician, playing for pennies. His long, thin, haunted face earned him a good deal of publicity, an a certain sotto voce gift of deadpan punning made him an idol of the boppers for a while.
(Typical sample of "Moondog language: "In all, I write in 27 different tempos. In this next number I demonstrate the quarterbeat tempos - one/four, two/four, three/four, four/four, five/four, six/four, seven/four, eight/four, nine/four and who/for and what/for I don't
A few years ago, Tony Schwartz, an American recording engineer, set out on a major project - a portrait in sound of a whole section of a city - the 19th District of New York. At various times, while recording in the docks, on 51st Street and on West 46th, he ran across Hardin´s music that he recorded four hours of it - all in the streets of New York, interspersed with motor horns, footsteps, bits of distant conversation, foghorns, steam whistles, an all other noises of big town life.
The result is one of the strangest record ever issued to the public. I predict confidently that it will become a collector's item - not only for musicians and collectors of musical oddities, but as a document of our times, in which a musician of exceptional talent is reduced to earning his living as a semi vagabond.
On the eight tracks of this EP, Hardin (or "Moondog", as he likes to call himself) demonstrates most of his own instruments, plus some of the Japanese ones which Suzuko, his wife, brought into the family. Of these, the samisen, the 17th century three-string guitar, is probably the best known. But Moondog's use of microtone intervals lends an oddly Oriental feeling even to those instruments which he built in America out of junkyard bric-a-brac.
The first track, recorded on 51st Street, is an improvisation in 7/4 time for drums or wooden gongs, plus strings struck with a hammer (or so it sounds) on an instrument which Moondog calls the "oo." The second track, recorded on West 46th Street, features bells, drums and a wooden gong against a recorder solo in 5/8 time.
The third one, a "Lullaby," features Suzuko on the samisen and Moondog on the recorder with an accompaniment of foghorns, features complex cross rhythms in 4/4 time on the cymbalomlike "oo".
Side two opens with a solo on a strongly Japanese - sounding instrument which Moondog calls "utsu." I have no idea what it is - it sounds partly like plucked silk strings, partly like water-filled vessels, struck with a padded mallet. The time is 5/4, as in fact, is the next number "On And Off The Beat," which uses gongs, wooden gongs, drums, bells and "oo" in the most complex bit of polyrythm on this disc.
The seventh number, "Chant," I find he hardest of the lot - a pedal point to a two-part round for voice and "utsu" over a lead voice played on the "uni," a seven-string unison instrument of sorts.
Lastly comes a demonstration of rhythmic modes - nine of them, played on drums, with an obligato from some sort of stringed instrument which sounds like rippling water.
Don't be misled by the oddly named instruments: this is not a publicity stunt; nor is it a freak. This is genuine music, played by an exceptionally gifted couple of musicians. Just ask your favourite drummer to copy some of Moondog´s rhythms and you´ll see what I mean.
Don't miss this for anything.