After a year of speaking with American sound designer, artist and engineer Philip Perkins, Glasgow/Edinburgh DJ and Subcity resident Eamonn's new label chOOn!! became a reality.
The pair's fruitful conversations concerned the reissue of Perkins' 1983 release King Of The World - a three part LP with nods to minimalism, field recordings and ceremonial mantras that reveals his deftness at creating enriching soundscapes.
Originally released on his own Fun Music, the album originally went under the radar and is an enchanting insight into Perkins sprawling back catalogue. chOOn!! gives the release a new life and sets a precedent for what's to come on the label: obscurities and forgotten sounds that will range from the sublime to the down right ridiculous.
Here Philip guides us through each part of the release and the stories behind the kings that rule them...
"Thanks for listening to this old music and thanks to chOOn!! for bringing it back. These pieces are meditations on the lives of three ancient kings who believed themselves to be the ruler of all mankind."
PACAL (THE SHIELD)
The subject of the first suite on the LP is the ancient monarch - Pacal (The Shield), Mayan lord of Palenque, who ascended the throne at the tender age of 12 and died in 683 A.D., at the age of 80.
This was the Classic period in the culture of the Maya, when the great stone cities were built, when sculpture reached a peak, along with new developments in the already highly advanced arts of astronomy, writing and time-reckoning (the calendar). We know of Pacal through the efforts of the Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz, who in 1952 discovered an opening in the floor of the Temple of Inscriptions at Palenque.
This opening revealed a vaulted interior stairway which descends 80 feet below the temple floor, to the tomb of Lord Pacal. Today, one can make that dark slippery descent to see the carvings on the lid of the sarcophagus and the nine stuccoed figures which stand guard over it. The tomb carvings, especially the 7 by 12-foot lid of the sarcophagus itself, were the inspiration for the music recorded on the first side of the record.
The piece opens with the sound of running water, intermittent thunder and stately Casio chords which combine to evoke the ancient temples of Palenque rising from the lush tropical rainforest around the Usumacinta River. Drums begin slowly, rise to a driving beat, then fade.
This is a more cheerful, carefree treatment of the opening theme, moving around and through the sounds of children at play. I liked to think of myself as a musician of the real. I collect soundscapes and field recordings then synthesize to deepen and expand.
By day I made a living in part by doing sound work and location recording for films. This track was intended to represent an atmospheric, filmic music - effecting the play of images across the mind - of an enchanted peninsula. Wandering through the stately ruins of the Yucatan we hear the cries of regrets and cranes, ducks and grebes, crickets, frogs and other inhabitants of the surrounding rainforest.
Coronation and Wedding
Casio notes are struck and held, then carried along by a simple four beat percussion line – we proceed with regal rhythms appropriate to a Mayan court.
The Casio synthesizer was modified by electronics wizard Richard Marriot. Extending its tonal range, deepening its bass and making possible a variety of unusual sounds.
Processional, with a brooding bass line - the music throughout is mournful, restrained but full.
The Conclusion recapitulates the main theme and variations.
KING OF THE WORLD (ASSURNASPIRAL II)
“I am the king, the lord, the exalted, the strong, the revered, the gigantic, the first, the mighty, the doughty, a lion and a hero – Assurnasplral, the powerful king, the king of the world.”
So read the ‘Annals’ of an 8th century B.C. Assyrian king, inscribed at about the same time Homer was composing the Iliad, and uncovered at the ancient city of Nimrud. He was indeed a powerful king. In the 25 years of his reign, the Assyrian armies slashed and burned their way even to the shores of the Mediterranean. His immodesty is matched only by his also all too human cruelty in war – fond as he was of flaying his captors alive and nailing their hides to the city walls.
As the news of his methods spread, his armies met less and less resistance. The Phoenician cities surrendered, paying huge ‘tributes' to the Assyrians in order to be allowed to go on trading. The system was much like modern extortion operations; pay and pay and pay - or die.
With all the loot thus collected, Assurnaspiral went home and built himself a magnificent palace on the banks of the Tigris at Nimrud. The doorways and walls of the palace were adorned with either glazed tiles or sculptured bas-reliefs picturing scenes from the life of the king. These are some of the earliest known sculptured reliefs and are virtually unparalleled in precision and beauty. These wall reliefs, some of which are now In the British Museum, were the inspiration for the title suite of my album, King Of The World.
Morning (The Plains)
We open with a thunderous roar which is then pierced by the haunting high-pitched cries of reed pipes and then proceed with a rousing drum beat and Casio theme as the Village awakens.
Afternoon (The Village)
We focus on the peacetime activities of the king, the more prevalent subject of the Nimrod reliefs – visiting the villages and observing everyday life – children playing, women singing and working, men building and presenting the king with spoils from the daily hunt.
Evening (The Courtyard)
The music is melodic, limited to Casio digital synthesizer (modified) and percussion – the Palace court fills with revellers celebrating news of another war victory - dancing continues long into the night - reaching a frenzy and eventually spilling out on to the banks of the Tigris.
MARCUS AURELIUS (THE STOIC)
The third and final cycle of the LP is named after the second century A.D. Roman emperor, who was a student of philosophy and embraced the principles of Stoicism. Stoicism was a Greek school of philosophy founded by Zeno in 308 B.C., holding that man should resist the passions, and calmly accept everything that happens as the inevitable result of divine will. The name derives from the ‘stoa’, the porch or terrace on which Zeno taught. Marcus Aurelius' reputation today rests on his Meditations, written in the last decade of his life (he died in 179 A.D.), when he was with his armies, fighting off the barbarian hordes along the Danube frontier.
They are the reflections of a philosophical idealist facing a world that has become dreary and menacing. He is often disgusted by all he sees: “What do you see when you take a bath? Oil, sweat, filth, greasy water, all nauseating. Every part of life is like that.” He clings to the main tenet of Stoicism, that everything in the world is the work of a divine Reason, which man must gladly accept and cooperate with, as a drowning man clings to a sinking ship. There he was in the Golden Age of the Roman Empire, but his Mediterranean ideal of responsible citizenship seemed already a thing of the past, there on the front lines, facing the relentless menace of the Vandals, the Goths and the Gepids.
After him came a century of civil war and barbarian invasion. Stoicism was replaced by philosophies and religions that promised a better world, beyond. From reading the Meditations, I saw him as a rather melancholy person ill-equipped philosophically to deal with the foreign culture and people he encountered, the world outside Rome not conforming to the rigid ideals he was taught. These pieces follow the dissolution of his stoic ideals out on the frontier and his resigned acceptance of the way things actually were.
This cycle is also divided into episodes, but the titles indicate a more abstract approach to the subject. The opening "Coronation March” of Marcus Aurelius differs from the Coronation in Pacal in its stoic reserve. It is still programme music, but the intention is to illustrate states rather than scenes.
As we move through each section of the cycle we progress from stoic simplicity through to more complex arrangements. A tambourine and recorder repeat one figure while the Casio moves through and around to compound and extend the statement.
A guitar is strummed harp-like to reiterate the feeling of aspiration…
Into Horizon where a bellows-like exhalation signifies limits.
A Walk Outside
A Walk Outside is almost comically tentative - the idealist haltingly steps out into the real world.
I will say that now, as an older person, these men seem less to me like heroes and people to be venerated and more like large-scale gangsters, thieves and murderers for how they conducted their reigns.
The tragic tone of much of the music came from a notion of how the fruits of their pride, ambitions and delusions of divinity affected their nations, their families and ultimately themselves. Did they ever have a clear view of what they were really doing? I don't know, probably not until it was too late.
Enjoy this article? Want more?
You can support Ransom Note and independent journalism through our Patreon campaign now.
Become a friend of Ransom Note