Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Carnival of Light - The Beatles

The featured article (click on the link, upper right), was the kind of mess music piracy creates in the new millennium. There aren't any winners here. In everyone's haste to secure the latest whatever, here was a case in which a top notch song was mistakenly credited to a top notch band (Death Cab), while the real artist got no acclaim.  

When David Gilmour and Nick Mason put together the latest Pink Floyd release, The Endless River, in 2014, the pirates, weeks ahead of the LP's release date, were quick to download a 40 minute collage of random sound that included toilets flushing and an assortment of unlistenable oddities (only slightly more listenable than Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music).    

Of course, we're all aware of the Tapers, those Deadheads who religiously recorded each and every Dead show, and were allowed a space of their own at every gig, creating a nearly comprehensive musical history of the Grateful Dead in concert (article to follow).

Conversely, there are times when one [nearly] wishes for less. Yoko Ono's incessant release of Lennon tapes and compositions compiled an unfortunate compendium nearly as prolific as the Dead's. I'm under the impression that John would have objected. 

Finally, there are those recordings that have never been released - no demos, no bootlegs, no snippets.  On January 5th, 1967, shortly after vocal overdubbing sessions took place for "Penny Lane," The Beatles recorded an experimental track for use in a then-upcoming art, light and sound festival titled The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, that was to be held at the Chalk Farm Road Roundhouse Theatre in London. The track, which they titled "Carnival of Light", is said to be 13:48 minutes in length, and besides the two original events in which the track was played, it has never been heard by the general public.

Beatles expert Mark Lewisohn stated that the song included "distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds, a distorted lead guitar, the sound of a church organ, various effects (water gargling was one) and, perhaps most intimidating of all, John Lennon and McCartney screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like 'Are you alright?' and 'Barcelona!'"

McCartney biographer Barry Miles added, in his 1997 publication Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now, that the song had "no rhythm, although a beat is sometimes established for a few bars by the percussion or a rhythmic pounding piano. There is no melody, although snatches of a tune sometimes threaten to break through".

Other instruments heard throughout the track include bursts of guitar feedback, gushy cinema organ and fragments of clinking pub piano. McCartney himself described the song's production, saying "I said 'all I want you to do is just wander around all the stuff, bang it, shout, play it, it doesn't need to make any sense. Hit a drum, then wander onto the piano, hit a few notes and just wander around'".

McCartney tried to have the track released in 1996, intending to include it on The Beatles Anthology 2, though George Harrison voted against it, stating that he "didn't like avant garde music," and as a result, the track never made it to the compilation.

McCartney confirmed that he was indeed still in possession of the master tapes, and was still eager to release it, saying that he felt as though "the time has come for it to get its moment. I like it because it's the Beatles free, going off piste", although he also stated that such a release would require consent from the group's estate (Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, and George Harrison's widow, Olivia Harrison, as well as Ringo Starr). The track has still not received a public release (though many fakes have shown up online). 

According to The Guardian, the Cage- and Stockhausen-influenced tune was called "one of those weird things" by Beatles producer George Martin, who recalled, "It was a kind of uncomposed, free-for-all melange of sound that went on. It was not considered worthy of issuing as a normal piece of Beatles music at the time and was put away."

I've never been a "Revolution 9" fan, (except that one time on acid in 1974), and I'm sure that "Carnival of Light" isn't half the track, but my curiousity, 50 years on, has peaked.