Writer Amanda Kaye has asked me to contribute to a series of imaginary albums, culled from the creative wellspring of Blue Mountains writers and artists, to be exhibited at the Platform Gallery in Katoomba.
“These imaginary albums are the missed opportunities, the albums we wish existed. They are the uncanny cultural signifiers of our collective vinyl-addled fancies,” says Amanda. “Each imaginary album begins with the writer, who crafts the story of the work. Sometimes using a real artist and sometimes inventing musos from the ground up, the writer invents the tracks and the back-story, before passing the creative baton to the graphic designer or artist, who designs the cover art. The work you’ll see in the gallery will be the album covers and sleeve notes developed from this process”.
My imaginary album, “Three Phase Peace” by Yoko Ono, Delia Derbyshire and Else Marie Pade, has been wrenched into visual reality by painter Ben Tankard. See his cover art (featured above) and my accompanying sleeve notes at the exhibition, which opens this Friday and runs until 9 April 2018. Find out more about the exhibition at imaginaryalbums.rocks
For Imaginary Albums, I created the album ‘Unfinished Music No.4: Three Phase Peace’, a fictional collaboration between Yoko Ono, Delia Derbyshire and Else Marie Pade. The sleeve notes are a blend of truth (John Lennon and Yoko One did make three experimental albums together…) and the fiction (Yoko never met Delia and Else Marie – at least not in any documented history…)
UNFINISHED MUSIC NO.4: THREE PHASE PEACE
DELIA DERBYSHIRE / YOKO ONO / ELSE MARIE PADE
MADE IN NEW YORK, 1981
PHASE I (6:30)
PHASE II (13.03)
PHASE III (19:33)
Music by Delia Derbyshire, Yoko Ono, Else Marie Pade
Produced by Yoko Ono
Engineered by Ed Sprigg
Cover Art by Ben Tankard
Mixed and Mastered at The Hit Factory
(P) Imaginary Records Ltd 1981
‘Our mother, who art of the universe, hallow be thy name …
For thy is our wisdom and power, glory forever.’
– Y.O. 1981
On Unfinished Music No.4: Three Phase Peace
By Stuart Buchanan
In 1968 and 1969, Yoko Ono and John Lennon recorded a series of three albums under the Unfinished Music concept.
No. 1: Two Virgins (1968), No. 2: Life with the Lions (1969) and The Wedding Album (1969) are experimental musical albums. ‘Experimental’ in the true sense of the word; exploratory, improvised, intentionally provocative and non-conformist. Or, as one critic kindly called the series: ‘barely listenable’.
By 1968, John invited Yoko to his apartment while his then wife, Cynthia, was holidaying in Greece. Lennon later recalled ‘instead of making love, we went upstairs and made tapes’. He asked his future bride-to-be ‘do you want to hear some of the things I’ve been playing around with?’ and as he spooled through his tape loops and experimental noodles, Yoko improvised alongside; partners in chime. John pressed ‘record’ and the result was Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins.
There is, however, considerable debate as to whether John should have pressed that button. The record is often critically reviled; the curiosity value seemingly its only saving grace. It’s true that the music is polarising – is it an important piece of improvised experimental music? A curious documentation of two artists messing around? Or, to quote an early review, is it ‘an extremely long, painful and assaulting 50 minutes’?
Here, on the fortieth anniversary of the recording, this seems too harsh a reading. John’s untimely death notwithstanding, the series offers an unfettered insight into two artists’ powerful rejection of popular music norms, delivering a work that defies categorisation and demands that you leave your expectations at the door. Although what they made is a very avant-garde series of works, the pair are clearly having fun. It is, in a literal sense, the soundtrack of John & Yoko falling in love.
In 1980, Mark Chapman determined that their time together was to come to an end, murdering Lennon on the steps of the couple’s apartment. We can never know the depth of torment that Yoko suffered as a result of this appalling crime.
What to do next? After recording her Season of Glass album in the direct aftermath of John’s death, Yoko decided to honor her late husband in a more oblique way, picking up the threads of their Unfinished Music series.
At the same time as Yoko was making ground-breaking work as part of the Fluxus art movement in the late 60s, Else Marie Pade and Delia Derbyshire were both deconstructing art in their own radical ways.
Else Marie Pade is one of the earliest pioneers of early electronics but does not often feature when the history of electronic music is being written. It was during her internment in a WWII prison camp in 1944 that she resolved to dedicate her life to music and became the first Danish artist to work in the field of electronic music. She travelled to Paris to study with Pierre Schaeffer, a pioneer of the ‘music concrète’ technique of treating recorded sounds as raw material for music compositions (an early form of sampling, if you will). Else Marie created her radical debut work A Day at the Deer Park in 1954.
Delia Derbyshire is most well known as the artist who brought the original Doctor Who theme music to life, but increasingly earned late career respect as one of Britain’s true innovators of early electronics, mostly via her work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Derbyshire effectively stopped releasing music after only fifteen years, working in private, her alleged obsessive perfectionism precluding the public distribution of music.
In the summer of 1981, Yoko One triangulated her investigation of experimental music by recruiting Else Marie Pade and Delia Derbyshire into the world of Unfinished Music.
Unfinished Music No.4: Three Phase Peace is an attempt to recreate the sensibility of the original series, but to also move beyond it. Pade brings structure and rigour to what was otherwise often a shambolic exercise, and Derbyshire draws on her radical approach to sound creation. Together with Ono’s loose, avant-garde, Fluxus approach and sense of humor, the album delivers more questions than answers – an outcome that sits perfectly in the Unfinished Music concept.
John & Yoko noted that use of ‘unfinished’ in the title did not imply that these were incomplete recordings or demos; rather that we, the listeners, were the final musicians in the group. We were to complete the compositions ourselves, to fill the spaces they left behind, using music from our imaginations. In doing so, Yoko Ono co-created a new genre of ‘imaginary music’, and, through our collective inspiration and creativity, we made Unfinished Music No.4: Three Phase Peace a brilliant imaginary album.