Acts of Faith: Electric Evangelists 1

Exactly a year ago my discussion with a comrade about music-compelled-by-struggle led to my first original post here, Attica: Coming Together. Last Friday, talking with this same friend caused me to create a list of musics that employ the spoken word—faith-based speech specifically. After jotting down a few titles I came across an extensive list posted for Easter 2013 by one Mr. Fab, a Los Angeles-based deejay and musician. He helpfully includes the name of each orator, which indicates the popularity of two in particular, R. W. Schambach and Gene Scott. My list nearly ended with Praga Khan’s setting of the former in 1991, but Fab provides twenty more years of titles.

My Friday conversation involved Brian Eno and David Byrne’s album My Life In the Bush of Ghosts for which they used the voice of Kathryn “I Believe In Miracles” Kuhlman. While her estate wouldn’t approve licensing, a 1980 UK bootleg of the intended track and others circulated apparently before the official album was released in early 1981.1 Bush of Ghosts was completed in October of 1980 and Eno and Byrne must have scrambled to replace Kuhlman’s vocal: the substitute was an “unidentified exorcist” recorded the previous month in New York. Both these speakers are acts in their own right, with the exorcist commanding (below), healer Kuhlman exploring (at least initially).

On the bootleg (at 2:32) Kuhlman seems to introduce a guest, perhaps on her television show? Her phrasal pauses are electronically elongated in contrast to the musical pulses, turning prose into something this side of poetry.2

Sit down by my side.
Tell me all about that wonderful experience
when you were the possessor
of that wonderful gift
whereby you were enabled to see into the spirit world.
This is what he saw…

This is what who saw? Inexplicably (the track does hiccough as if it’d been trimmed)—and murkily in the mix—Kuhlman turns to scripture: the story of Lot, King James Version (itself a poetical prose).

19 And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;
2 And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.
3 And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

At which point, of course the men of Sodom demand that the angels be flushed out, “that we might know them.”3 To which Lot generously offers his “two daughters which have not known man.” The tale goes even further downhill from there, but Kuhlman—via the X-acto blade of Eno and Byrne?—omits all of this, returning cheerfully to:

But he’d been given that wonderful gift,
which enabled him to see into the spirit world.
These were angels,
angels with [God? Lot? thought?],
and angels are just as real in your life and just as real in my life as they were in the life of Lot.
Only he was given a gift whereby he could see into the spirit world and he saw them.

Surely the men of Sodom also were given the gift, else how would they have known there were new men to be known?

And so Eno and Byrne, having been forced to excise Kuhlman, swapped in an exorcist with a demonic laugh, who declares that his exorcisee’s “husband is the head of her house.” Thus the track moved from house to house, from the spirit world to “The Jezebel Spirit,” its title on the album.4

Anthems and Albums

It’s been noted that Eno and Byrne’s vocals appropriations had been performed at least ten years earlier by composer Karlheinz Stockhausen with his Hymnen (Anthems, 1966–1967), which sourced national anthem recordings from several countries around the world. And in 1969 Holgar Czukay (German co-founder of Can) with Rolf Dammers created Canaxis 5 by taking a choral a cappella track from a Folkways album, Music of Viet Nam, and giving it a lush setting.5 On Bush of Ghosts Eno and Byrne would do the same with three tracks from the album Music in the World of Islam (a six-LP box set that I let slip through my fingers when I moved back to Colorado). In 1987 Czukay employed the (mostly sung) vocals of Pope John Paul II, below. “We were blessed by the appearance of His Holyness Popestar Wojtyla and His Swinging Nuns during the Easter ceremonies,” Czukay writes in the credits to the Virgin album Rome Remains Rome.

Touching, Funny, and Disturbing

As can be heard, Eno and Byrne’s careful craft is in contrast with Czukay’s nonchalance. The latter approach also is taken by John Adams in a 1973 composition, a recording of which was released by Eno on his Obscure label. Christian Zeal and Activity is the middle movement of Adams’s triptych American Standard. The ensemble performs a deconstructed “Onward Christian Soldiers” but without benefit of bar lines—and with or without a baton. (Eno would use a similar technique for his Three Variations on the Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel.6) Adams’s ensemble is accompanied by the “extra material” of a radio talk show recording, which the composer called “touching,” “funny,” and “disturbing.”7 This description actually could apply to all of the repurposed preachings in Mr. Jay’s list.

(Regarding the image used for the following stream of a 1973 performance…8)

At the time of Adams’s success with his opera Nixon In China (1987), but before that work’s release on record in 1988, Nonesuch issued an Adams sampler, demonstrating that the composer already had a portfolio. For that album, in November of ’86 Edo de Waart conducted (or did he?) members of the San Francisco Symphony in the stand-alone Christian Zeal and Activity, this time with the “extra material” of an uncredited 1976 text-sound piece, Sermon.9

Brother Walter Reigns

Perhaps the most famous stand-alone text-sound creation in history is Steve Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain, featuring the voice of “a young black Pentecostal preacher who called himself Brother Walter.” He was recorded in San Francisco’s Union Square; the piece was “composed” there in January of 1965.10

It’s Gonna Rain was incorporated along with other Reich works (including Come Out, which I discuss in my post from a year ago) into Megamix, released by Nonesuch in 1999.

Megamix was crafted by Michael Kandel, aka Tranquility Bass, whose early collaborations under that moniker with Tom Chasteen employ found vocals, such as the Apollo 11 line in 1991’s “They Came In Peace” (a later “Sea of Tranquility” mix echoes Reich), and the South Asian/Latin stylings of ’93’s “Cantamilla.” As far as proselytizing goes, a relatively soft sell is contained within the duo’s 1993 “Mya Yadana (Kin Kin)” (named after the restaurant the two frequented in Bagan, Burma in 1988 and their server Kin Kin).

Power and Poison

Less restrained are the appeals of R. W. Schambach on the first of John Oswald’s famous mashups, “Power” (1975), which aligns the preacher’s calls with Led Zeppelin’s power chords.11

In the 47-page booklet that accompanies Oswald’s Plunderphonics compilation (pictured above), the artist explains:

This is a track which i made while i was working on the « burrows »

—both he and John Adams were taken by the cut-up method (and results) of William S. Burroughs12

and at the time i somewhat astigmatically decided that the repeating sample idea was not a direction i wanted to go in, and i put it in the closet. Five or six years later i heard that Bush of Ghosts record, which featured electroquoted preachers over rhythm tracks, and the thought crossed my competitive mind that i had already done this, better.

But Oswald explains further:

The basic premise of « power » was a long-standing one for me which dated back at least to my first hearing of Brother J. C. Crawford’s exhortations on the MC5’s Kick out the Jams. Before i knew much about Jerry Lee Lewis’ background, this seemed like the devil’s music. Rock, was eminently suited to be juxtaposed with ranting evangelistic rhetoric, and its brethren in the political arena, exemplified by guys like Adolf Hitler.

J. C. Crawford‘s resemblance to the latter-day Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping notwithstanding—

—Oswald denies these juxtapositions are ironic.

Rock fans were uncomfortable listening to talk about god and jesus. God and jesus fans were known to be uncomfortable about rock. So, even early on i was striving for my music to be unpopular.13

As I noted up top, preacher R. W. Schambach was a popular subject of electroquotation, to use Oswald’s term. In 1985 the British group :zoviet*france: included its song “Ram” from ’84 on a multi-artist audiocassette compilation, Ritual: Land’s End, issued by Touch. The track actually overlaps the preceding track, “Greater Faith Cathedral broadcast, rec by S/Z,” which is an otherwise unaccompanied exposé by Schambach of the truth behind the 1978 Jonestown Massacre. “Ram” appeared also in 1985 on the group’s own audiocassette album, Popular Soviet Songs and Youth Music, issued by Singing Ringing/Red Rhino, but it omits Schambach’s speech. A 1992 re-release of “Ram” on the group’s own compilation-from-compilations, Collusion (The Grey Area of Mute Records), resurrects the Schambach, perhaps because of the line that had been made famous the year before by Praga Khan.14 But before we get to those tracks, listen to the beginning of “Norsch Baelmaen,” recorded in 1982 and released in 1983 on the Red Rhino EP Norsch, which features another preacher.

And the backwards version…

“Ram” is the first track on Collusion by :zoviet*france:…

…from which Praga Khan borrows key bits, making his own message, calling for an abandonment of the old modus.

And since we’re on the subject: “Jim Jones” by the L.A. band Party Boys, from the 1984 LP No Aggro issued on Independent Records. No electroquotation here but rather the band’s recitation of Jones’s words.

A somewhat sour note to leave you on, but in Part 2 I look at Ralph Swickard’s Sermons of Saint Francis, Pierre Henry’s take on John the Evangelist, Cabaret Voltaire on Gene Scott, and more.

  1. The bootleg LP features twelve tracks whereas the official album features ten. I recall that sometime later KPFK, an L.A. listener-sponsored FM station, offered an audiocassette of the bootleg as a pledge drive thank-you gift, playing up the inclusion of Kuhlman, but I didn’t go for it.
  2. I have chosen the above streaming audio because it appears to have been taken from the original bootleg LP, with its surface noise.
  3. I just rewatched the 1976 film The Front, in which Woody Allen’s character, a cover for several blacklisted ghostwriters, is called before a HUAC subcommittee. Asked by his interrogators whether he knows a particular person of interest, his obfuscatory rambling reply: “Would you say, do I know him—can you know—uh, in the biblical sense?”
  4. A later thirteen-track bootleg CD, issued in Germany in 1993, calls the Kuhlman number “Into the Spirit Womb.”
  5. As noted on the Discogs entry for Canaxis 5, the source track is misidentified as “Boat-women song” from side 2 when it actually is “Love Song” from side 1.
  6. See the liner notes of the Discreet Music LP, Obscure No. 3 (1975).
  7. See the liner notes of the Ensemble Pieces LP, Obscure No. 2 (1975). In a 1973 interview (at 51:18) Adams mentions the “hymn tune” he used but names only tune’s composer, Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan). He also discusses the talk show recording.
  8. The image used in the stream directly below is from a 1987 CD, discussed above, whereas the audio in the stream was recorded in ’73. The stream begins with American Standard’s second movement, which ends at 7:42, but somehow it overlaps the third, discreet movement, which creeps in at 7:22. All three movements—John Philip Sousa, Christian Zeal and Activity, and Sentimentals—can be heard properly at the beginning of Part 2 of Adams’s 1973 KPFA interview by host Charles Amirkhanian.
  9. See the liner notes of The Chairman Dances CD, Nonesuch 9 79144-2 (1987).
  10. From the liner notes of Steve Reich: Live/Electric Music, Columbia Masterworks MS 7265 (1968).
  11. In Oswald’s notes for his 2001 Plunderphonics compilation, he calls Schambach “Brother Shambock.”
  12. In the interview cited in the note above, Adams discusses (at 4:14) Burroughs’s influence and his “sort of setting” of a final passage of Soft Machine. Oswald discusses Burrows on his website [currently available only as an archive] and provides 8 tracks from the work.
  13. All quotes by Oswald are from liner notes of the Plunderphonics 69/96 CD box set, Seeland 515, ƒony 069/96 (2000).
  14. Track list and durations from the Ritual: Land’s End album have “Greater Faith Cathedral” at ~2:17 and “Ram” timed at ~3:45 for a combined ~6:02; the overlap of the two begins at ~1:50 of the first track. The Discogs data for the Collusion album have “Ram” timed at 5:53; the data for the Popular Soviet Songs and Youth Music 1992 CD reissue have “Ram” timed at 2:49, indicating omission of the Schambach speech.

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