22 Good Reasons to Listen – Jowe Head’s Weird Sounds Compendium
1 Stomu Yamashta ‘One Way’
Used in Nicolas Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell To Earth. Such spooky sounds. Stomu is a classically trained percussionist, but so inventive. I saw him play in Birmingham in 1973, and he blew my mind with his dramatic stage presence, and his clever use of a violin bow on cymbals and other conventional percussion instruments.
2 King Crimson ‘Larks Tongues In Aspic part 1’
Percussionist extraordinaire Jamie Muir made his mark on this remarkable album, playing a variety of peculiar instruments, thrashing metal sheets with chains and so on, but no details were explained on the cover. On this track he plays a spooky intro on a Mbira (thumb piano), not a stock instrument on rock albums. I’d never heard one before, and I didn’t know what the hell it was for many years!
3 White Noise ‘Firebird’
Delia Derbyshire is best known for her terrifying Doctor Who theme, and her later work from the early 1970s with White Noise is interesting as well. It probably seemed somewhat primitive to a person in the 1980s-90s, but interestingly it sounds amazing today. Instead of using synthesiser, she favoured manipulating sounds using tape speeds and surgically precise editing skills using a blade, which was very intensive in terms of labour and time. Later, sampling was invented, so the same kind of effect became possible without the hours of toil!
4 United Sates Of America ‘Garden Of Earthly Delights’
Not unlike an American version of White Noise, but using primitive electronics instead of using manipulated “natural” sounds. Still unique, influencing more recent bands like Broadcast.
5 Moondog ‘Oo solo’
This gent invented and built his own instruments, which was pretty clever, considering he was blind and of no fixed abode; this one is called the Oo, a triangular zither or harp. This inspired me to start customising my own stringed instruments. He lived and played mainly on the streets of Manhattan and you can hear some wonderful accidental street sounds on many of his early recordings.
6 Joe Meek ‘I Hear A New World’
Another geezer who invented and adapted his own gear. He apparently made his reverb device using an old spring from a gate. Plenty of reverb on this track, and voices in various high and low registers, facilitated by manipulating the tape speed when recording.
7 Fairport Convention ‘Mister Lacey’
The song is a homage to Bruce Lacey, who was a sculptor and installation artist. He made automata in the shape of hybrid humans/robots, often emitting strange noises. One of these features on this recording.
8 Captain Beefheart ‘Electricity’
One of the first times I’d ever heard a Theremin; allied to Beefheart’s amazing voice this is a heady cocktail of sounds.
9 Traffic ‘Hole In My Shoe’
When I heard this as a child, I was un-nerved by the chilly, eerie tones of the Mellotron on this spooky hit record from 1968. Psychedelic sounds like this were a definite corrupting influence on my young mind! To look at it, a Mellotron resembles an organ but uses a bank of looped tapes revolving inside the instrument with the pre-recorded sounds of violins or flutes, which are triggered by the keys. It is now an anachronistic instrument because it is so unreliable and crude, but the effect is marvellous and unachievable by any other means.
10 Television Personalities ‘Salvador Dali’s Garden Party’
If you listen to this closely, you can hear all kinds of bizarre sounds. I brought along a sound effects record to use for the “cocktail party” segment at the start, and we left it recording on a spare tape channel for the rest of the song, by accident. When we came the mix it later we couldn’t believe what came out of the speakers – seemingly random animal noises and so on – but we agreed that Dali would have approved!
11 The Residents ‘Possessions’ (from ‘Commercial Album’)
I admired their use of synthesiser, it showed that this instrument wasn’t just the domain of flamboyant progressive rock bores like Yes and ELP; this album showed the benefits of brevity and an economical style – each track is only about a minute or two long.
12 Nico ‘Frozen Warnings’
I admire John Cale’s intuitively esoteric production and the atmosphere that he generated with Nico on two of her solo albums. As well as Cale’s viola, I also love Nico’s use of harmonium, so it was exciting to get hold of one which I have used for a few of my own recordings, although perhaps not with such devastating effect as she manages, especially allied to her other unique instrument – her merciless voice.
13 Danielle Dax ‘Jesus Egg That Wept’
A truly unique musical maverick unjustly fallen out of the public eye in recent years. She produced and played nearly everything here and recorded it herself at her home – backwards rhythms, kalimba, a TV, her unusual but melodic voice multi-tracked with peculiar harmonies, my favourite album of hers and a truly original, rewarding listening experience.
14 Gong ‘Flying Teapot’
Derided by some square critics for being rather silly, Gong’s output was, for me, well balanced between the enigmatic and the humorous. Here we can experience some of the key sounds of their classic line-up: Daevid Allen’s eerie “glissando guitar” (wrought by gently rubbing the strings laterally over the fretboard to make a shimmering chord), and Gilli Smyth’s ethereal “space whisper”.
15 Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band ‘Trouser Press’
Roger-Ruskin Spear playing a solo on a mechanical trouser-press, the like of which is often supplied at hotels.
16 Sparklehorse ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’/’Gold Day’
The late, lamented Mark Linkous; the production and music on his albums is always intriguing and weirdly beautiful. I love the way he manipulated radio waves, and he would collage unexpected sounds like (it seems to me) cooing doves like on ‘Gold Day’. I like the way he’d sometimes manipulate a recording to make it sound like it’s coming out of a fucked-up old radio or gramophone; this technique has since been adopted by so many other producers that it’s almost a cliche, and everyone seems to have forgotten that it was probably Linkous who pioneered it! I noticed that he’d have two microphones on stage, one a “dry” untreated sound, and the other channeled through some distortion..
17 Buffy Saint-Marie ‘Cripple Creek’
Marvellous use of mouth-bow. A wonderfully unearthly sound!
18 Frank Zappa ‘Bicycle Concerto’
I am not an enormous fan of Zappa, but his early Mothers Of Invention albums are brilliant. Before even that, a fresh-faced, short-haired, besuited young Frank is held up for ridicule on Steve Allen’s American TV show, for making sounds with a bicycle. Well, I love this so much that I have adapted the idea for a track of my own featuring my own bicycle, a musical homage to Flann O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman.
19 Faust ‘The Faust Tapes’
It’s difficult to pick out a track because it’s a collaged album, but it’s an amazing mash-up of found percussion, echoed sounds, deranged chanting and peculiar rhythms. A crucial formative influence on Swell Maps.
20 Diamanda Galas ‘Litanies Of Satan’
The limits of the human voice pushed to an extreme. An awe-inspiring performer.
21 Jimi Hendrix ‘Star Spangled Banner’
The live Woodstock version is remarkable, and the less well known studio version originally on the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ film soundtrack album is devastating, the pomposity and grandeur of the tune undermined by using several layers of guitar sounds, overdubbed either at half-speed or double speed, managing to conjure up nightmare impressions of screaming, bombing raids and machine guns. It’s like an awesome audio version of Picasso’s Guernica.
22 Soft Machine ‘We Did It Again’
What the hell is that sound at the beginning of this? It sounds like a mutant bird of prey is attacking a furry creature! Or possibly some kind of frenzied feedback technique using a microphone and a human mouth I’d say at a guess. A genius group, in their early days – the early line-up of Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt and Mike Ratledge (plus Daevid Allen) was very inspiring.
I couldn’t even find space for any Sun Ra, Bulgarian choirs or Tuvan throat singing!