Since 1968 Arthur Brown has simultaneously confused, impressed, educated and shocked the world with his highly original performance art that extends untouchable concepts into the masses’ hands. He made the first performance art album, he was one of the first performance artists to tour internationally, and he was first to utilize several cutting edge technologies that both set the trend and envisioned the future. Arthur Brown’s latest invention, the “Brain Hat Helmet,” makes it possible for thoughts to create music in real time. READ AND LEARN; Arthur Brown uses his knowledge from the past to be combative in the future.
TEENAGE NEWS: Tell us how your “Brain Hat Helmet” works, and what it does. Did you develop it? When did you first start using? Is there anything like it?
Arthur Brown: In 1972, when we were beginning to develop the drum-machine-band, we hit on the idea of using the frequencies measured by the encephalograph (ECG) to power sounds (these were brain readings). We dreamt of, for instance, the Pope or the Queen coming onstage and doing a solo merely by thinking it. But, we found the technology was not sufficiently subtle in its then form. This was announced in the music papers of the day. About two years ago I saw mention in a CNN report that a headband monitor had been developed that anyone could use. I searched around for people that could help me make it work to make the monitored frequencies not only reveal mental patterns, but to use them to produce spontaneous music in real time. I announced a year ago we would premier it at the Hard Rock Hell Festival; but various people dropped out of the team, and we were unable to go ahead. Then I teamed up with Psychosonic Paul, and he found Luciana Haill, who had been working for some time in that field (more for monitoring the sounds that for making music with them). We got together, and last year in November the headgear was featured in 8 shows, which are also a multimedia presentation of my life. This was the first time we had featured it live. Now, on September 12, 2015 at Bestival festival on the Isle of Wight, we will premier it as part of the Crazy World heritage. Our next step is to not only have music triggering through this machine, but the capacity to create melodies in real time, by the same kind of process that jazz musicians use for improvising. The next step is that more than one headband will be used together, and then you can have a club where when you walk in, the GPS kind of technology is used to pick up your brain signals. This is relayed to sound generators. As friends interact their brain rhythms interlock and music is created without DJs or bands.
For anyone who is interested… In the next four weeks we will create a site where our experiments are shown. All information will be shared through forums, etc.
In the meantime you can go on our website:
There, if you look around, you will find it in the background to the recent album “ZIMZAMZIM.” Shortly it’ll be released in the US on Bronze Rat Records. Mention of these and the dance sphere called a “KONSHUSPHERE.”
TEENAGE NEWS: Once the brainwaves are analyzed and understood, do you think music can be created to provoke specific emotional responses? COULD IT COMPLETELY CONTROL A LISTENER?
Arthur Brown: Dr. Tomatis (a French researcher, healer and philosopher who died only a few years ago) found that the two small muscles in the inner ear controlled both the hearing, and the growth of the whole nervous system. In the action of these tiny muscles, across the sphere of their operation, was a map for adults of the whole history of the body and the emotional response system. He treated many disturbances of the body, psyche, and hearing function. He did it with highly re-EQ’d versions of Mozart pieces. He found that most disturbances left the tiny muscles in a state of spasm in the particular sonic area corresponding to a particular part of the body or a particular emotional state. By feeding them with very minute amounts on the damaged frequencies, the muscles began to work again and the emotional state or physical difficulty associated with the trauma was dissolved. So, here, sound does govern physical and emotional response. He also found that subjecting people to volumes on certain frequencies could produce anger. If it was fed in while they were talking, they began to feel angry at each other. Whether you would call such frequencies music is open to question. But you can certainly affect how people feel with what you play to them. We have not as yet done enough research to be able to be very exact. But, as all is sound, including the thinking mind, the nervous system, the whole body and the world and universe around us… we will be able to choose exactly what feeling we will introduce. And maybe what thoughts will arise. But we are inventive creatures, and will also develop the means to be immune to such control. There is an old Chinese saying, “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.”
Regarding the brainwaves, that is actually the subject of the first section of my autobiographical multimedia presentation we performed at 8 locations in UK last year. To control brainwaves you need a particular pathway that you can introduce to the brain. However, there are so many connections between different parts of the brain; it is not so simple. Rather than introducing prefabricated memories, which is rather crude, we need to treat the brain like the very subtle thing it is. We need to understand just what happens to all our faculties, and the body itself when we learn something. We also need to look at the action of that consciousness in us that is not involved in thought and what part it plays in our existence and our learning. We may then find a way to have the brain learn what we want it to learn. We make it create the pathways itself. This is a part of Chinese “re education.” It is also part of Skinner’s experiments with physical conditioning of animals. But these are blunt instruments. Just as the Iranian leader said that Isis could not be beaten by physical force, but needed to be confronted in its ideology; the attempt to implant new ideas will have to involve the whole person. Bathing them in a sonic bath and making subtle adjustments to the sound may well affect every part; but there is a hidden something in a human being we know little of, that can overturn the apparent physical inevitabilities. That is why at a certain time of apparently inevitable death, some people get a total remission of cancer. We need to pour more research into the nature of this wonderful human creature than we do into its efforts to eradicate its enemies (including, finally, itself).
TEENAGE NEWS: Can you talk about the different mixes of “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown” album? [Stereo vs. Mono, your preference, and some of your contribution to the mixing process].
Arthur Brown: The mixing was done in various studios. It took Kit Lambert [record producer and label owner] two solid weeks to mix it. He said he would never mix again for that long in one stretch. The band added various things to the recording. For instance, Drachen Theaker, the drummer on most tracks, said while the mixing the track “Fire,” that there was not enough power in the bass frequencies. What it needed was a backwards kick drum, he said. There were no samplers in those days. Lambert said, “Exactly how will we do that, you psychedelic gipsy?” Drachen, unshaken by this aggression, said, “Put the track on backwards, and I will play along with it.” Lambert said “That will take you, above all drummers, a week in the studio- which we can’t afford.” Drachen said, “Put the fucking track on…” Lambert got the track played backwards, and Drachen began. To Lambert’s astonishment, Drachen did it in one take. And later Kit Lambert admitted it was a great improvement to the track’s sound at that point. (Kit later turned down Drachen’s suggestion to break a bottle on each beat of “Rest Cure”). Drachen’s drumming was the reason we added brass and strings to the album. Atlantic Records (in USA) said they felt the drumming was not consistent. Arriving back in the UK, Kit, whose father was a modern classical composer of note, thought of getting Vincent [Crane] to arrange the whole album. He had trained in composition and conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in London. It was the first arrangement Vince had done. He carried his music sheets around for two weeks or so, working in the van, on the tube train and in his home. Drachen hated the additions claiming that Vincent moved our music in a Danger Man direction rather than carving new territory. But then Drachen was always more Avant-Garde than Vincent He later said that the live recording of the tracks done on the John Peel show, with Ron Wood [the Rolling Stones] on bass, were a better representation of the band’s energy. I myself thought the final thing was quite brilliant.
I had long arguments with Kit about the whole album being a concept about Fire. He thought it was a silly idea. I would not give in. So in the end we had one side as Kit wished, with tracks that reflected our stage act: “I Put a Spell on You,” and “I Got Money.” Only three tunes from the original suite made it onto that side “Rest Cure” and “Child of My Kingdom.” The other side was all about Fire. It was because I insisted on the concept moving through the whole side (we had spoken links and returning themes). On some of the more questionable tracks, Lambert brought in John Marshall [Soft Machine], at my suggestion, to drum on “I Put a Spell on You,” “Child of my Kingdom,” and “Fire”… Though later Kit also had John Heismann (Colosseum) do a version of “Fire.” Now, no one knows which drummer actually played on the final hit-single version.
The current stereo mixes were all done years after the original album. Myself, I prefer the mono mix as Lambert had such a good ear.
TEENAGE NEWS: Can you talk about the change in your band’s sound between your first single release [in 1968] and “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown?”
Arthur Brown: At the time of “Devil’s Grip,” [first single] the band was a trio with Vincent playing bass part with his left hand. It was not until later that Vince separated the two hands as far as amplification was concerned, and put the left hand through the bass amp. He was quite possibly the first to do this. So, on the album, Kit thought we would get the single played if we added a bass player to give the whole sound more drive. Later, when Vincent split the keyboards, we reverted to not having a bass player. Vincent was such a gifted and powerful player that no one missed the bass player. We also gained in flexibility and the ability to spontaneously and totally change direction; since Vincent was in sole charge of chords and was also a great listener to where Drachen and myself were heading. Anyway, the album featured a bass, which we had not up till that point used. Lambert and Stamp [Kit’s partner] also wanted a guitar, but we managed to negotiate out of that one. They wanted me to be a solo singer with a backing band. I liked to work in conjunction with other players, as a group. I still do. Also, the strings were added, as I explained in the previous question.
Going into the studio made us aware of whole new realms of sound. And we could do stuff that might not do too well in a normal gig setting. More experimental stuff that later led to prog-rock. “Child of My Kingdom” was, for instance, born out of Drachen’s and my own interest in Indian music and melodic approach. It was coupled with boogie-woogie, classical, modern jazz and poetry. This happened because the studio environment allowed us to explore areas of music suggested by the total concept, and the feelings this created. Also, being able for the first time to play back what we created in the moment, we knew what we had done and perhaps learned how to redo it. We felt more confidence in pushing further into unexplored combinations. Drachen was surprised at what I was actually singing about. Onstage he didn’t hear the particular words.
TEENAGE NEWS: What was living in LA like in the 1960’s? Why did you move to LA? What were the “freaks” like? Were you one?
Arthur Brown: While I stayed there for some months, I never lived there for a protracted time. I did have a romantic thing going with Miss Christine of the GTOs, and one of them had a thing with Alice Cooper. They were proper Valley girls, beyond the pale. Drugs, weird clothes, different speech, and independent indeed. With all of them together they were dangerous in the way that Pussy Riot are dangerous. Of course, in the US, the Valley Girls were just some of the “freaks” that the charming Governor of California, Mr. Ronald Reagan, wanted to put in a concentration camp.
One of the other freaks that I met on a rooftop in LA was Kim Fowley. He was quite radical… disliked normal day-to-day living: job, kids, the political party system, etc. He had a beard down to his knees, and said things like: “far out and crazy,” and “do your own thing” like most hippies. When I met him a few years later he was beardless, shorthaired and producing record. He claimed it was he who told KISS (then looking for an image), “Why don’t you use face make up like Arthur Brown in his bands- ‘cos he’s not using it anymore.” I did make arrangements to move into a flat in LA, but things at the record company fell apart and I went back to the UK and eventually married a Texan and went to live in Austin. I also lived in New York for about 6 months. I met various “freaks” there, and jammed and sang with Hendrix.
One “freak” I met just in front of Macy’s Department store… I noticed a one eyed guy standing there in complete Viking outfit. It was well worn, not new and shiny. He was standing, holding a spear. His hair reached down to his shoulders. He had a full beard. After about 20 minutes I went over and asked him what he was doing. He fixed me with his one eye, and said, “Someone has to look after the morals of this city!” That was a guy called Moondog, a leading composer of alternative music.
I made contact with many of the leading figures: Jim Morrison, The Jefferson Airplane, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Janis Joplin and such, and had affairs with several non-famous women. They surprised me with the vehemence of their hatred and distrust of the U.S. Government, and of course the Vietnam War. It was the period of free love, and the contraceptive pill was comparatively new. Most of the hippies smoked marihuana or hashish. They also took acid (except, famously, Frank Zappa who the hippies loved). There was at first an air of expectation. It was possible to live in they new, cooperative way they felt. Some had spiritual visions. Most had the usual conditioning by education and religion, and other stripped away conservative society forces. They did not want competition, but cooperation. The ideal of job, car, and kids, and controlled TV was laughed at. A lot of “straight” people began to think they were right. So the government decided to close them down. Also, moneyed people began to dangle carrots before their eyes. Most hippies ended up giving in to monetary acquisitiveness. The government imprisoned, disabled and some say killed many of the leaders of the movement, just as they did with the members of the American Indian Movement who most hippies supported.
TEENAGE NEWS: What aspects of electronic music excite you [drum machines, etc.]? When did you first start using a drum machine? What were others’ reactions to it?
Arthur Brown: Sounds coming from synthesizers was unlike that produced by plucking or striking strings. They could also be made to sound like the deaf cousin of a keyboard player. Feedback and Dr. Who laboratory sound/isolated tones, which might have resulted from the combined harmonics of other instruments, but without playing the main sound register of that instrument. They appealed to a different area of the psyche than conventional instruments. The response to them came in a different area of the mind, which it helped to open people up to. The resonances they caused were a new physical and emotional phenomenon. I find them very exciting.
Also exciting is the sampling element. You can take a sound we all know (say a motorbike engine) and take it out of its usual context. It then becomes a new sound, only recently available for use. Part of the knowledge culture…
Machines like the Serge Modular (where you plugged in many individual cables to produce sounds you then processed) allowed many more simultaneous notes to be produced than could be done with the fingers alone. Long sequences could be upheld for a long time. Vcs3 Putney Synthesizers had a joystick, and a patch board. The outer space sounds from this were way beyond anything any other instrument could produce at the time.
As for drum machines, when we started using one in late 1972, no one else had ever done away with the drummer, replacing him/her with electronic percussion. I believe Sly and the Family Stone experimented with one in the studio in the US around that time but we were the first to build our band round it. It was a Bentley Rhythm Ace (later the name of a charting band). It had various controls that allowed you to play, Rock and Roll 1) or 2), or Slow Rock. The rhythm came in blocks so you had no control of individual notes. Except that the snare’s speed could be varied (to give the effect of soloing). It had an extensive Latin percussion section. One advantage was that you could really control the sound level of the drums, and bring it down to the level of the other instruments, or raise it above them. It meant the band’s volume was no longer determined by the drummer. Being not a drummer it played simple forms. We tried to make the band have the same effect as a string quartet (where each instrument has the same value and musical weight as the others). I played that machine in the band. It was sometimes necessary to count, say, 21 beats before coming in on a particular section. A great discipline! One night I concentrated so hard on counting while waiting with my hand poised ready to tap the button, and at the same time emitting a high scream that I fell over and passed out as I hit the scream. For Phil Curtis, the bass player in the band, it was a nightmare, because the machine had no “give” in it, and played exactly the beat every beat with none of the timing elasticity that usually arises between a drummer and bass player. He came off stage each night with a headache. He referred to it as the “Brain-clamp.” Also if you were in a club with not much ventilation, on a hot night if the club were full, the sweat in the air would sometimes cause the machine to jump synapses. So then, it was soloing, and you had to follow it. This once happened in The Marquee club in London. We followed the machine, and made up chords, melodies, lyrics and rhythms as the machine joyfully jogged along for the whole 45-minute set. The roadies tossed in a costume every so often, and this helped to guide the lyrics. Some people would not believe the drum sounds were from a small machine. They would rush into our dressing room while we played, and check if we were using pre recorded tapes in there, or recordings played on a kit. Some thought the drummer was behind the curtain at the back of the stage. Mostly they laughed at it. But within a few years other bands began to copy the idea.
When they were taken seriously, for instance we were invited to open for Duke Ellington, other manufacturers saw the potential and within 5 years or so, out came the Lynn drum and the Oberheim. Also came the Fairlight, which could sample drums and rhythms as well as any other sound. The first one I came across (from Australia) was in the hands of David Voorhaus, and he and I did some exploratory work on it in I think 1976. In the next year 1977 I recorded a track with the Intergalactic Touring Band with Larry Fast on Fairlight. He later played the same instrument on Peter Gabriel’s first explorations of those sounds.
After coming back from 6 months in Burundi in Africa, and recommending to Peter Gabriel to also go to Africa, I worked for a year with German electronic Wizard Klaus Schulze. This was in the electronic camp. Peter took his African visit (to Senegal, discovering Yusuf N’Dour) into a different direction, and married the Fairlight to rock, soul and African rhythms.
TEENAGE NEWS: Where was the most exciting place you ever lived? When did you live there?
Arthur Brown: I have lived in Burundi and for a short time in Rwanda in Africa.It was at the end of the first round of ethnic battles there. It is beautiful, and wild. There are Hippos wandering round, walking through the people on the lake Tanganyika beach to get to the water. There are flies that lay eggs in your chest and you can only wait for them to mature into huge balls on your chest. There are extinct volcanoes where Gorillas live in the trees, and sometimes cross your path. I have lived in New York, Spain, Paris, Portugal, and in Austin, Texas. I have seen many wonders in this world. I have entertained under armed guard at battlefronts. But the most exciting place to live is in this moment. I was shown it by a Master in Portugal, Ganga Decoux. I now am in an art warehouse in Lewes in UK. There we all live in creative energy. We create together, whether it is a work of a particular object, like a painting, or piece of music, or just conversation or a meal. We are also in process of making development of the property on which we live be sensitive to local tastes and wishes and give houses not only to the rich. True affordable housing. See Lewes Phoenix Rising website. The same is true of the local café, The Buttercup, where Clair encourages staff to be alive and responsive in the moment. Lots of fun.
My band is also a fountain of creativity, joy and livingness. I live between all these environments. They are the clothes that wrap around the body of my awareness. How exciting to watch the world be created anew each moment before our eyes!
“By the way your magazine ideas are like leaping out of a polluted ocean into original untouched water.”
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