AIR–Vaporized

Every now and then you learn a lesson you expect to keep with you for life, but usually, you have to learn it again. Back in 1985 when Kimberly Haas and I were conducting interviews for our documentary series Totally Wired, we talked with Patrick O’Hearn at a rehearsal studio in Los Angeles. Patrick is a loquacious guy and we were just all smiles as he told us the stories and concepts behind his music. About 45 minutes in, Kimberly looked at the tape recorder and said, “It’s on pause.”

Reactions to this statement are almost always the same: “You’re kidding” “Oh shit” or just stunned silence.

We’d been talking the entire time with no tape rolling. Fortunately, Patrick picked up everything he said and nothing was lost except our nerves and our pride.

THE LESSON LEARNED: NEVER TURN OFF THE RECORDER.

We’ve followed that lesson ever since. Until now.
Pocket SymphonyMoon Safari
On Thursday many of you will get a chance to hear the French duo Air debuting a new Echoes feature called Secret Sources. You’ll hear them speaking gleefully about music I played them, most of which is from their past. Unfortunately, you won’t hear some of the best material. Why? You guessed it. I ran the session for about 40 minutes with the flash recorder set in PAUSE.

While I’m sitting there thinking this is the coolest interview I’ve done in a while and certainly some of the most fun I’ve had in an interview, the digital counter sits at 2:28:46 for 40 minutes. So great comments about Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, Steve Reich, Nick Drake, Tak Shindo, and Kraftwerk; their chagrin at not identifying a Debussy nocturne, and their eagerness to acquire a 13th Floor Elevators recording I just used to check headphone levels, will all go unheard.

JB and Nicolas were pretty cool and sympathetic about it, but we all realized the spontaneity of the session could not be replicated, so I went on with the B-list of tunes. It’s good. In fact, it’s really good. But the session I had carefully planned and orchestrated with a narrative arc was gone, living only in the memories of JB Dunckel, Nicolas Godin and me.

You can hear Air’s Secret Sources On Thursday, May 17 and I’ll have it up on our myspace site, Echoesspace, right around that time.

Comment posted by
at 7/28/2007 7:53:16 PM

Just heard the Air interview in an Echoes rerun the other night. What a shame that some of the interview got lost, but what you did produce for the show came out very nicely.

I saw Air play at Coachella earlier this year, my first time seeing them. It was the worst set of the festival, I’m afraid to say. Terrible sound, plus short scheduled set even cut shorter due to delays to try and fix the sound. Hope to see them again in better circumstances.

After the interview, you play a track from “Pocket Fantasy” and then one of the older tracks from the 50s (don’t know the name). As it played, I thought “that really sounds a lot like the electronic little ditty “Cafe de la Jungle” by Telex, the Belgian electronics group often compared as “Kraftwerk with humor”. I played it later at home, and the smiliarity certainly is there. Check out in particular their first 2 albums “Looking for St. Tropez” (1979) and “Neurovision” (1980), which are classics. Telex is a shamefully overlooked band in my book.

Comment posted by
at 5/22/2007 8:06:05 PM

“DOH!” To quote Homer Simpson. Yeah, it would have been nice to hear Air’s reaction to Steve Reich and Kraftwerk. Still, I really loved hearing their thoughts on the pieces presented I heard last Thursday. I only have two of Air’s albums, Moon Safari and Premiers Symptomes. Personally, I didn’t care for Air’s later albums.

I would love to see another Secret Sources with artists like Patrick O’Hearn, Jean Michel Jarre, Jean Luc Ponty, Brian Eno, The Orb, etc.

Keep up the great work and remember, no more hitting the pause button on the tape recorder!

Comment posted by
at 5/23/2007 9:48:03 AM

Good suggestions all. Look for more in the future, including a Steve Roach session already in the can. And I hear you on the Air. I wish they’d get someone else to do their vocals.

Comment posted by
at 6/5/2007 3:33:22 PM

Hi John & Kim! I just listened to the Air “Secret Sounds” sessions. First, as a huge Nick Drake fan, I NEED to know what they had to say about the Poor Boy, although I hear almost none of Nick’s pasotoral English sounds in Air’s etno-Parisian psychodelia. And certainly they are not even in the same league with Nick as vocalists. But while I would expect, say, Belle and Sebastian to mention Nick, I wouldn’t expect it from Air. Maybe you and Kim should wear T-shirts with the acronym “PTFB” (Press The F—ing Button) so this won’t happen again.

Second, I think you should make clear that what you are doing has a clear antecedent-The “Blindfold Tests” given by Downbeat Magazine. Musicians took those tests seriously-you were expected to know the sources on your instruments, at a minimum. I was not surprised to hear that Air has very limited knowledge of jazz. I guess you decided against playing Eddie Gale’s “Ghetto Music” for them, John?

I would also not be surprised if Steve Roach had a limited knowledge of jazz. I’d like you to “test” a musician whose knowledge is at least equivalent to yours and probably greater, somebody who you absolutely will not be able to stump. Robert Fripp comes immediately to mind. I bet you will find that ambient guys don’t know much outside the ambient genre, which is not surprising since most ambient DJs also know little otside of their narrow baliwicks-gd

Comment posted by
at 6/6/2007 12:14:21 AM

They actually said some lovely things about Nick Drake like how he gave them permission to be melancholic in their music and they recognized it right away. I played “Riverman” for them.
The point of Secret Sources isn’t to “stump” the musician. That would be too easy. The Wire magazine does that all the time, playing obscure, atypical songs by artists. The Point of Secret Sources is to gain some insight into the influences behind an artists music and occassionally, for them to hear their influence in another artist, but to get at that n an unguarded, unprepared way.

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