Strawinsky - Rite of Spring

This continues a series of articles about albums that have been influential on The Tangent's music. It is neither a complete list, nor is it a list that would be the same if you asked me next week, it is not a guide to what I think is best in the world even if some of these albums are just that. It may also go on longer than 10, it also may not.

This one is obviously a little different. I fact it's different from just about anything else in the world. Even now in 2017 in a much freer and enlightened world there is still a "Classical" critical elite who can make any commentaries one makes on their turf seem like ignorant spouting. Back in the 70s - that elite was as much behind the "pretentious" tag that was attributed to Prog musicians as the UK rock music press. For this reason, I'll try to write about Le Sacre Du Printemps in the same way as I wrote about UK. As if it's just one of my fave albums. Which it is. But it's NOT, never was, never will be "Classical" It has as much in common with Greek columns and Roman literature as a Volkswagen Passat, The people in the area of "classical" music think it's their property (and defend it as such) but they can't have it. No way. Its ours as much as it is theirs.

The first reason why it relates to the Tangent is obvious to those "in the know". We've done a cover version of half of it (which was released independently as a guerrilla release on our album "A Place On The Shelf" as we were not allowed to release it by the sanctimonious and hypocritical goons at Boozy and Dorks. ) - and we made an album inspired by it in the form of "Le Sacre Du Travail" - and there's various quotes from Strawinsky's work dotted around our other albums - "Where Are They Now" being just one example.
"The Rite of Spring" came into my life when some friends of my parents left a copy at our house for my folks to listen to. My folks didn't like it much - but I was into it from the word go. I was probably about 8 or 9 - can't really remember.

It is a musical riot.

It's like a garden of vividly coloured flowers that has unexpectedly gone wild, been overtaken by bindweed, creepers and multifarious insects and fauna. if you are walking along, say, an old railway line, you'll occasionally come across an unruly gathering of impossibly violet Rosebay Willow plants chanting "here we go here we go here we go!!". With a load of Convolvulus trumpets vuvazela-ing and winding their way around and various other hortensia jostling for attention and a selection of bees butterflies and micro-moths all having a beanfeast. If you could get that chaos, bottle it, pour it out as music - you'd have something that was a bit like The Rite Of Spring.

Breaking just about every rule in the playbook, The Rite paved the way for the music of the 20th and 21st century - possibly more so than any other single piece. Its influence caused seismic tremors in the world of "Classical" music - went on to set a template for a new medium, the film soundtrack as which it famously appeared in Disney's "Fantasia" where Boozy & Dorks were curiou$ly not being as militaristic. Its pagan themes further separated mainstream music from the establishment - by now Composers were moving away from the almost compulsory formal sacred pieces - building up the independence of artists the world over, and of course it spilled like a shelf of multicoloured paint pots onto the broad canvas of Progressive Rock which in my mind it had both anticipated and inspired.

The dissonances, brutal rhythms, fragile melodies, clusters of instruments aping bird calls, the sound of cattle in the fields, folk dances and the wonderful fight between the old and the new that's going on here - is so well re-demonstrated in "The Gates Of Delirium" just a bit over half a century later. Smash cuts - stop-on-a-dime musicianship, brilliant non-sequiturs and about half a million things you can do with an orchestra that even Beethoven hadn't thought of. Combining instruments in new ways to create new sounds and textures almost like the process of additive synthesis, this shake up of sound itself was an acoustic equivalent of what the Progressives were to do to the 3/4/5 piece rock & roll combo half a century later. Supported - no - symbiotic, with the lush and rich colour of abstract expressionism in Art at the time - Wassily Kandinsky was transitioning from his early impressionistic art into his "Blue Rider" period where the abstract came more to the fore. Strawinsky was travelling in the same direction and at this lovely crossroads there was this gorgeous looking back over previous symphonic structure in one direction, and a look forward into the (as yet) unknown. The traditional critical view of Strawinsky does seem to indicate that his successors were Boulez, Steve Reich, Messiaen, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Philip Glass and Michael Tippett. Astonishingly these academic views of Strawinsky's legacy have yet to focus on the impact he has had on electric music, it's as though a Chinese Wall was erected upon the invention of the Electric Guitar and neither side refers to the other... which is something that needs to be remedied as I believe that Yes, King Crimson, National Health, Henry Cow, Magma and now perhaps even Snarky Puppy are as important on his CV as those earlier pioneers.

Although on our new album it's Gustav Holst we quote directly, this contemporary of Strawinsky would (in my uneducated opinion) have had as much admiration for the Rite as I do - and the Planets Suite shared a similar window in time - in the same way that "Close to The Edge" and "Tubular Bells" do - just a couple of years apart.

A friend of the band - Mike Briggs, knowing my love of the piece was moved to take a copy of our "Le Sacre Du Travail" album and photograph it on Strawinsky's grave. A touching gesture to be sure. Great to know that someone appreciated the importance of this man, not just to me, but to the musicians and composers that we grew up with. I reckon he will strongly influence musicians not yet born and they will do things we cannot yet imagine. I would have loved to show him my synthesiser. Strawinsky would have loved Yes and Groove Armada. And Boozy and Dorks can go home in the rain for all I care