Stomach Ulcer Music: Part 2

A Semi Regular Look into the World of “Difficult” Music

Michael Mantler/Carla Bley – 13 and 3/4

Loosely affiliated with ECM via a distribution deal, WATT records was the collaborative label established by composers Bley and Mantler to exclusively present their own music. And just as well, as even in the “golden age” that this was recorded in (1975) you can’t imagine too many record labels saying, “yeah, ok…why not?” to this music. This is a seriously dark and disturbing orchestral/free jazz/minimalist/cacophonous hell fire of an album, or at least 50% of it is. Bley’s 3/4, is appropriately enough in a lurching waltz-time for the most part, with its main child-like piano part sounding like Steve Reich without the theoretical posturing, mixed with a slightly inebriated version of the main theme from The Godfather. It’s still a challenge though, but anyone who has enjoyed her epic Escalator Over The Hill will find the subtly humorous, yet adventurous score very pleasing .

Over on the other side of the record however, Mantler’s 13 makes Carla Bley’s piece feel like the Carpenters. Imagine one of those horribly jarring orchestral moments that you get when someone gets stabbed in a horror movie – then keep that sound going. Then keep it going some more. Then remove all sense of structure and tonality and why not add a second orchestra to the mix? Yes that’s right, no less than 8 trumpets, 6 trombones, 4 french horns, 2 bass trombones and 3 tubas constitute mearly the brass element, and that’s already enough for Mahler and Wagner to get slightly wet eyed over. It also sounds as though the sax section from the Glenn Miller orchestra have accidentally crash landed into the studio as well. Though ultimately as impressive a sound as this makes, what is particularly stomach churning about the piece is its intensity, almost to the point where by the end you literally can’t take it any more (as I’m sat typing this the final deranged onslaught of  the piece is genuinely causing me mild breathing difficulties!) But, despite that the work is strangely compelling. Again, like a horror film there is something about it where you just can’t take your eyes or ears off it, no matter how horrific it gets. And everyone looks to be having a very pleasant afternoon in the woods on the back cover, so that’s nice.

Although not available on CD, those of you with Spotify access can hear the opening 3 mins of Mantler’s half of the album on the recent ECM retrospective of Michael Mantler called Review:


Welcome to the Troopers For Sound blog, a place for our general thoughts on music and its related industries. Here you will find our monthly playlists and information on records which are expanding our musical minds. Essays on musicians and composers such as Frank Zappa and musings on what we have come to call Stomach Ulcer Music!

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