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Elizabeth Kinder
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

You know that excitement when you hear a piece of music and think that anything is possible, that a whole new way of being in the world is about to open up? Listening to the quite bonkers and brilliantly creative Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp recently, a sense of liberation freed me from the humdrum of life at the coalface of world music writing and delivered feelings of lightness and joy. Like some mad fan from Pseuds Corner I mentioned this to the band’s founder Vincent Bertholet and drummer Wilf Plum, when I spoke to them for this magazine.

Bertholet said he hoped his music inspired people with the energy to do what they want to do. And to deliver a defining moment through music – where life is seen afresh, blinkers off, jogged out of its usual rut – must be the thing that every struggling artist aims for. Surely the hope at the heart of every band is to tap a universal chord through some unique creative process unlocked by simply following their passion.

Whilst doggedly following inspiration can undoubtedly bring rewards these are not a foregone conclusion. During a gig in Manchester with a group of excellent musicians of fine musical pedigree, I witnessed the effects of creative genius that had led one man directly to his girlfriend’s bottom. Enthusiasts of sampling and found-sound, the percussionist who was stepping out with the singer, Sharon, was particularly fond of two slightly different snare sounds he’d created. Proudly playing them back, he asked us to choose the one we preferred.

“Crack” “This is Sharon’s left buttock.”

“Smack” “This is Sharon’s right buttock.”

It was impossible to choose: both sides of Sharon’s bum were equally snare-worthy. So the gig duly went ahead with each, though the subtle nuances of this sparkling creativity were clearly lost on the solitary spectator. Propping up the bar some yards away at the back of the room in the face of our best attempts at wholly original and inspirational music, he started up a plaintive chant a few bars into the first number. (Cue Mancunian accent): “PUT A RECORD ON!” We ploughed on. Booked for a 45 minute set, we played it. Our audience carried on expressing his one idea. We were left in no doubt that we’d made an impact. It just wasn’t the sort we’d hoped for, ie a seminal musical moment as outlined above.

Which bring us back to the rhythm section of OTPMD. Happily for Bertholet, given the current line-up of his band, one of his life-changing musical moments was when he first heard Dog Faced Hermans. For Plum one of his had been first hearing the musicians with whom he pulled up his drum stool to form the Dog Faced Hermans. They waxed lyrical about the creative liberation and inspiration in each instance and their untrammelled joy in working together.

Obviously, theirs is an unusual story. Generally life piles up and squashes the thrill that those early musical moments bring, but we too are lucky. We can always re-ignite that excitement – feel the experience as new again just by putting a record on. Perhaps as he found us lacking, that was what the lone man in Manchester had in mind.

Elizabeth Kinder


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