The crop circles mystery gets more bizarre each season. Blaming it all
on hoaxsters is certainly the easiest solution. But the confessions of self-proclaimed
perpetrators, ex-pat Aussies Doug and Dave doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
Though their story of circle fakery was widely disseminated in the press
last summer, their subsequent backpedalling was not.
Having initially claimed credit for every last crop circle--even though
as many as 20 per night occurred at the peak of the 500-plus 1990 season--the
duo then retreated to an admission of about 30 circles each year. When litigious
farmers decided to take them at their word and hang them for the cost of
damaged crops, they changed their tale again, this time claiming to have
merely started the ball rolling by fabricating the first observed circles
12 years ago.
Grist for conspiracy enthusiasts: the previously unheard of wire service
that released Doug and Dave's tale to the British papers folded its phones
and stole away as soon as the confession began springing leaks. Published
photographs of RAF helicopters photographing circles indicates Her Majesty's
government is keeping tabs on the phenomenon, so it has been suggested that
Doug and Dave's comic opera was carefully concocted to undermine the mystery
just as it was entering a strange new turn.
Back in the carefree days when circles were actually circular, Dr. Terrence
Meaden's proposal that whirlwinds or gobs of plasma were responsible seemed
plausible as anything else. But in 1990 pictograms armed with rectangular
shields and pitchforks staved off the meteorological hypothesis. (See the
cover of the Led Zeppelin box for the striking iconography at Alton Barnes.)
This year even weirder shapes have erupted, from asymmetrical insectograms
resembling Indian earth carvings in the Nazca Plain of Peru to geometric
cryptograms sublime as a Freemason's wetdream.
An example of the latter forms the cover story of a recent issue of The
Cereologist (20 Paul Street, Frome, Somerset BA11 1DX, England), a wildly
open-ended journal edited by Fortean dean John Michell. His analysis of
a beautiful formation at Barbury Castle reveals more forethought than foolery.
To whit: the sum of the areas of the satellite circles at the apices of
the central triangle equals the area of the central circle. A crack surveying
teaming working in full light of day would tax themselves with such precision.
This thing materialized overnight.
A bizarre undercurrent of secondary phenomena associated with the circles
is on the rise too. In Circular Evidence, the first British book
on the mystery (published here by Phanes Press complete with spiffy cartography
by yours truly), authors Pat Delgado and Colin Andrews cite eye and ear
disturbances in circleville. Recent videos bear out their claims. A BBC
interview with Andrews at the center of a formation was plagued by a technician-baffling
"electronic-sparrow" trilling--which other witnesses have reported
Stranger yet, a pair of videos have caught tiny disc-shaped objects flitting
around two locations in full light of day. The video I saw, shot by German
college students, shows an apparently solid object darting in and out of
a circle a few foot or two above the ground, then irising into nothingness
as it approached the camera. Sounds like the fairy folk up to their old
Call me a sucker for the bizarre, but I staunchly believe in the unbelievability
of the crop circles. How seriously should we take them? If the squiggles
and shapes in fact represent an attempt at communication, we'd better assume
the message is important. But an attempt by whom? The saucer people? I don't
think so. Landing a ship on the White House lawn would be worth 10,000 runes.
Members of the Hopi nation claim to recognize the message at once. The crop
circles, they say, are a desperate cry for help from an earth in danger
of choking to death on waste and pollution. A direct appeal from Gaia. Why
not? Nature is our source of mythology, poetry, religion, and science--the
wellspring of symbolic logic. So crop circles may merely be a particularly
graphic localization of the universal. If it rains, it sleets, it warms
up, it freezes--it creates the intricacies of snowflakes--perhaps it crop
Speaking of the earth, was there ever a duo with so organic a name as Peaches
and Herb? Or a slight song as memorable as "Reunited?" Yet its
ethereal atmospherics get me every time, the satiated longing of two estranged
lovers joined at the astral body by the umbilical cord of Ma Bell. The same
separation-as-bliss richness seeps through Euis Komariah and Yus Wiradiredja's
luscious duets on GlobeStyle's The Sound of Sunda
cd, degung music from Java.
Sunda's songs showcase the pop genius of producer Gugum Gumbira, guru of
infusing traditional styles with contemporary kick. Anchored by the teardrop
percolations of gamelan percussion, sobbing wooden flute, and fleecy zither
washes, vocalists Euis and Yus sweep through the night on the wings of whispered
melodrama, sighing and cooing like caged birds who mistake their bars for
Forget the back-cover credits with pedantic indication of modes. Sorog or
slendro? Who cares? Unlike Euis' last GlobeStyle disc, Jaipongan Java,
where formidible rhythm cycles let heartshattered melodies twist in
the wind, nothing's obscure here. Compositions click with a fresh-scrubbed
innocence popped from the corn of the best soul ballads. There's one perfect
fit, and, sugar, degung is it... the sweetest juxtaposition of forms since
the Kama Sutra.
Yet sometimes acrimony lights a fire that simple ardor can't approach, or
if love has hopelessly curdled and unpleasant truths must out, there's no
better impetus for action than the snarls and ululations of wild mountain
woman Najat Atabou, The Voice of the Atlas
(GlobeStyle cd). In an obscure town in the high elevations of northern Morocco,
law student Atabou found herself disgusted with the restricted role of women
in Berber society, the familial obligations, the forced dependence on men.
"I'm Sick of It!" ("J'en ai Marre"), she howled, carving
her escape route with a debut release that sold 450,000 copies.
Ironic, then, that many songs on this cd pine away faithfully at home as
her free roaming male diddles about ("J'en ai Marre" is not included).
Traditional content aside, Atabou's fierce delivery grinds up the niceties
of patience or alleged ecstacy of longing. Since anger at deprivation so
clearly drives her, I suspect a subversive twist on established themes that
liner note translations fail to capture. Deft folk-meets-filmi arrangements
sustain the tension with handdrums, strings, overblown flute, and an urging
chorus eager to hear Atabou declare the worst. Mustapha fans will flip fezzes
at the primordial source of "Shouffi Rhirou."
Flamenco music may be fiercely traditional, but not so rigid it doesn't
allow a wide latitude of interpretation. And it isn't just the new flamenco
punks like Pata Negra who take chances. Old fart Pepe Habichuela's contribution
to the Rykodisc anthology The Young Flamencos
is an Andalucian solea with the controlled abandon of a Pharoah Sanders'
blow, a windsheet of acoustic guitar runs so dense my mind's ear anticipates
the inevitable soukous-flamenco collaboration--even as Ketama trades speed
riffs with Malian kora genie Toumani Diabate on "Caramelo" (from
the Hannibal Songhai cd).
We also get songstress Aurora's salsa flavored "Besos de Caramelo",
Rafael Riqueni's beautiful dialog with strings ("Santa Cruz"),
a tough urban amalgam from La Barberia del Sur, plus lots more width and
breadth. With the possible exception of "Medias Sevillanas", orchestral
hokum from Carlos Benavent and Joan Albert Amargos almost too brief to criticize,
compositions absorb outside influences without dissipating their essential
power. Instead of seeking to become another world music, flamenco redraws
its own borders while holding the center intact.
But extend the boundaries too far and they become difficult to defend. Angularities
simplified, dangerous edges deburred, emotional complexity trimmed back
(leave the sideburns, please), the Gipsy Kings's
Este Mundo (Elektra Musician cd) is authenticity for hire.
Not that Bill Joel earnestness and Beatles-via-ELO exhilaration aren't appealing
in their own right. Just don't call it flamenco, bub. Unless your idea of
an African musician is Roger Whittaker.
Can a roster of drop-in rastas from three hemispheres constitute a Hawaiian
reggae sound? They do on Hawaii Reggae International
(Hawaii Dub Machine cd, 5640 Halekamani Street, Honolulu, HI 96821) thanks
to the knob-knurled fingers and advanced keyboardology of H. Doug Matsuoka--last
heard staking out tough cultural turf on Hawaii Amplified Poetry Ensemble's
Most Powerful Nation cassette.
Producer Matsuoka transforms what could have been a generic stop over into
an imaginative landfall with immediately identifiable ambience, stirring
in so much sunshine Jamaican skies cloud in comparison. Tour de fun: Tony
Gits' "O When O When" with spooky Laurie Anderson/Peter Gabriel-style
harmony, tailgated by the de-evolution-riffed "Teach the Children"
courtesy of Ital & Ras Inando.
Margareth Menezes, Kindala
(Mango cd). Strong songs, astute even witty arrangements, a raga rock
version of Boukman Eksperyans' "Pwazon Rat," and a voice that
can be as evocative as Sade's (wrap yourself in "Repique Romantico").
But too often this Brazilian opts for loud and brassy, blowing nuance out
the cabana door. We hear you, Margareth. Notch it down. Meanwhile lithe
and agile Jimmy Cliff turns in a performance worthy of a griot, gracing
lead vocals on "Me Abraca E Me Beija." Hindenburg, meet helium
Nick Drake, Fruit Tree (Hannibal/Rykodisc
4-cd box). No other pop artist has left us with a canon so permeated with
the inevitability of death--not as expression of nihilism, machismo or sentimentality,
but as an arc of the seasonal cycle: the quiet blanket of snow that smothers
a tract of scarred ground. The hot calm of Drake's songs is startling. Only
the last before his 1974 medication overdose replace embrace with forboding,
such as "Black Dog," where the elemental imagery that lights his
work with a remarkable pallet of grays finally fastens teeth to cuff and
tugs him toward the door.
Drake's credibility as creator of the starkest English folk-pop is threatened
by cult status as too-fragile-to-live romantic. Yet his songs bear the same
integrity and subservience to archetype as the hardiest world music. To
hear his voice is never to forget it, the sound of sand strewn across cut
stalks of a freshly harvested field. Too bad he lived in pre-crop circle
days. The idea of literal symbolism, etched in ground no less, might have
The Bukharan Jewish Ensemble Shashmaqam, Central
Asia in Forest Hills N.Y. (Smithsonian/Folkways cd). Jewish ghazals,
you say? The poet may be Rumi, but the singer cites the Torah as sourcebook.
Confused? Well, the music is clearly realized, originating at the nexus
of Moslem and Jewish tradition in the Central Asian Bukhara region of the
USSR. Just as klezmer draws on east European modalities, the Bukharan sound
calls upon folk songs of Samarkand, Afghanistan, Iran--even India: lead
stringed instrument, the tanbur, has the timbre of a subdued sitar for added
ethnic dislocation. Thousands of miles from their homeland, a Bukharan diaspora
3,000 strong strives to keep the loose ends straight--and a "lost"
Jewish tradition alive--with the help of these exceptional performers.
Gato Negro, Black Cat Dub (ROIR
cassette). He croaks, he squeaks, he rubs sticks together, he flicks his
bic, he texturizes the old slamblam with fluttery rhythms via clandestine
radio from Lagos, standing in one place only long enough to prove there's
room for another melodica-toting mad scratch professor of dub, room, that
is, as long as he keeps on the western brink of continental drift.
Boiled in Lead, Orb (Atomic Theory
cd). Don't call them mustaphabees. With Hijaz pulling production duty, these
Minneapoleans have clean hands to go with dextrous fingers, plus their buzz
through Armenia via dirty Dublin chooses gnosis over hypnotism, heresy over
evangelism, thundering bass underbelly over shepherd's flute. They sing
songs in English, too--whether to dispell illusions or obfuscate, I can't
decide on the basis of this 1990 disc I have no excuse for reaching so late
in life cycle. I do hope the sublimated thrash and fury holds together the
next gun run.
The Sun Sounds Orchestra, Open the Doors
(Eastlawn cd, PO Box 36487, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI 48236). If BiL's world
tour via SST (above) proves a might too herky-jerky and your temperament
is better served by memories of the steamship age, travel back in time to
a Detroit departure--compliments of a 13-piece jazz orchestra playing sweet
sounds the duration of the cruise. Got Masekela, Fela, Miriam Makeba, Ibrahim
and more. Hope you were planning on a route around the Horn. Soukous, you
say? What the hell is that?
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