Saturday, November 29, 2014

taking tiger mountain (by strategy)

Brian Eno sought a certain ratio swinging about through the creepers to make us weep more cheaply with subtleties a spectrograph would miss in the impressionistic espionage of these strategically scaled scenes of surrender.  

Eno had started 1974 off with the artistic triumph of his solo debut 'Here Come the Warm Jets' and continued to work in the studio producing John Cale's 'Fear', Robert Calvert's 'Lucky Leif and the Longships', and two albums for the Portsmouth Sinfonia.  Eno also collaborated with Kevin Ayers on the experimental spoken word album 'Lady June's Linguistic Leprosy';  and the two of them performed an all-star concert with John Cale and Nico at the Rainbow Theatre in London that was released as a live album entitled 'June 1, 1974'.  

All the while, Eno was struggling with the lyrical component of composition:   "I...began to wonder about what lyrics were...They aren't a problem in the sense of inhibition - but they were a problem in that I didn't have anything to say. I didn't have a message and I didn't have experiences that I felt strongly enough to want to write about. In fact, I felt far more strongly about the intellectual side of me that was going into essays and lectures and things...All my favourite songs had lyrics which I didn't quite understand...My own favourite songs had lines like that. 'Dead Finks', for example: 'Oh please sir, will you let it go by / Cos I failed both tests with my legs both tied / In my case the stuff is all there / I've never been so sad for a very long time.'  Which gave me a picture of this tongue-twisted boy who had just failed an interview and was sort of blushing and embarrassed.  And I decided I wanted these picture-lyrics. Because love-songs don't do that. Love-songs make a number of statements - which I'm wary of doing - so I've avoided love-songs, and it's only on this album I've just done that anything like a love-song starts to appear."

A major epiphany came when he found a set of postcard stills from a Red Chinese ballet-film called Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy:   "It was so exciting! I thought 'That's the sort of lyric I want!' There was 'Tiger Mountain' which gave it a medieval, almost folksy, flavour - and 'By Strategy', which was very up-tempo and modern.  So I bought the set and started carrying it around with me and thinking about it. And when I got to New York I went to stay with this girl called Randi and fell asleep after taking some mescaline and had this dream where this group of girls were singing to this group of sailors who had just come into port. And they were singing 'We are The 801 / We are the Central Shaft' - and I woke up absolutely jubilant because this was the first bit of lyric I'd written in this new style."

Back in London, Eno began going through years of old tapes to find fragments with which to work:   "I called up Phil (Manzanera) and asked him over to help. What actually happened was that I'd have loads of little bits and pieces lying around which I'd give to him to work out what key they were in, etc., and then he'd come back to me and say 'Well, this bit might fit onto the end of that bit', you know?  He helped a lot by plastering it together - and also by co-writing 'The True Wheel' which contains the fragment about The 801.   As soon as I'd made up the shape of the song, I made a plan of it on paper, sketching out all the spaces where I wanted words, and began running through it, just singing whatever came into my head. And every time I hit on a phrase I liked, I'd write it down in its particular place in the framework.   And gradually I'd arrive at a kind of 'found' document made up of half-obscured fragments -and all I then had to do was fill in the blanks by reconstructing what I thought each lyric was about. Automatic writing, in fact.  I liked the idea of making myself into a channel for whatever it is to transmit ideas and images through. So my lyrics are receivers, rather than transmitters, of meaning - very vague and ambiguous, but just about evocative enough to stimulate some sort of interpretation process to take place.  The mysterious thing is: where do the words come from?"

The sessions for 'Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)' took place at Island Studios in London with Brian Eno on arrangements, production, vocals, electronics, snake guitar, and keyboards;   Phil Manzanera on arrangements, production, and guitars;   Brian Turrington on bass guitar;  Freddie Smith on drums;  and Robert Wyatt on percussion and backing vocals.  "Special Guests" included Portsmouth Sinfonia on strings for "Put a Straw Under Baby";  Randi and the Pyramids on the chorus of "The True Wheel";  The Simplistics on the chorus of "Back in Judy's Jungle" and "Taking Tiger Mountain";   Andy Mackay providing brass on "The Fat Lady of Limbourg";  Phil Collins adding extra drums on "Mother Whale Eyeless";  and Polly Eltes doing vocals on "Mother Whale Eyeless".  Rhett Davies engineered the album with assistant Robert Ash.   During the process he also worked with Peter Schmidt to develop the 'Oblique Strategies (Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas)' cards to help break through creative blocks by trying a random approach.  Schmidt also designed the album cover from lithographs and polaroids of Eno.  

Manzanera looks back:     "Oh, it was great fun. On "Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)", we were just doing anything we felt like doing at the time. The funny thing is that the engineer who we used, Rhett Davies, he's involved on this Roxy tour. He also did "Diamond Head" and "801 Live" and Quiet Sun, so it's like a family. There was a lot of experimenting and a lot of hours spent with Brian Eno, me and Rhett in the control room doing all the things that eventually evolved into those cards, the "Oblique Strategies", and it was a lot of fun. But then, after "801 Live", Eno went off to work with Bowie, and we virtually never saw him again. He was just too busy working with all those other people."

Eno considers:  "I nearly always work from ideas rather than sounds. Titles. It's that title that just fascinates me. It's fabulous. I mean, I am interested in strategy, and the idea of it. I'm not Maoist or any of that; if anything, I'm anti-Maoist. Strategy interests me because it deals with the interaction of systems, which is what my interest in music is really, and not so much the interaction of sounds ... The dichotomy between the archaic and the progressive. Half Taking Tiger Mountain – that Middle Ages physical feel of storming a military position – and half (By Strategy) – that very, very 20th-century mental concept of a tactical interaction of systems ... One of the recurrent themes of rock music is a preoccupation with new dances. And it's taken by intellectuals as the lowest form of rock music, the most basic and crude. So I was interested in combining that very naive and crude form of expression with an extremely complex concept like Taking Tiger Mountain, which would be a sort of double joke. First of all the joke of me doing a dance number and secondly the fact that it also has a complex symbology that discusses another question. The idea is paraphrasing the dance as a dance between two technologies. One of McLuhan's contentions is that conflict, international conflict, is always conflict between two technologies, not two moralities. Moralities are dictated by those technologies. I've taken the conflict between the regular-type soldiers and guerilla-type technologies. I've called the regular soldier-type ones, since they're mechanically oriented, clockwork ones. The guerilla tactic ones are electronic... I'm not subscribing to any political point of view. It's to do with this technological rift. Technological rifts have always produced hybrid art forms... For the soldiers, it's a set of emergencies. For the guerillas, it's a set of opportunities."

"Taking Tiger Mountain"

"China My China"

"The True Wheel"

"Third Uncle"

 'Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)'
full album:

All songs written and composed by Brian Eno, except where noted. 

Side one

1. "Burning Airlines Give You So Much More"   3:18
2. "Back in Judy's Jungle"   5:16
3. "The Fat Lady of Limbourg"   5:03
4. "Mother Whale Eyeless"   5:45
5. "The Great Pretender"   5:11

Side two
1. "Third Uncle" (Eno, arr. Brian Turrington) 4:48
2. "Put a Straw Under Baby"   3:25
3. "The True Wheel" (composed by Eno, Phil Manzanera) 5:11
4. "China My China"   4:44
5. "Taking Tiger Mountain"   5:32

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