Henry Flynt - Graduation

As with bands such as Can, the influences are controlled and are used to create something genuinely new – it is the difference between eating a good stew and taking a nibble of all of the ingredients one at a time. In other words, it is all the difference.


Henry Flynt – Graduation and other new country and blues music...

Henry Flynt's work has been hidden from view for the best part of forty years. This is despite the fact that he moved in rather elevated circles in the 1960s and 1970s. Lou Reed taught him to play guitar and he occasionally played with The Velvet Underground. The minimalist composer La Monte Young wrote pieces specifically for him and he was also involved in the fluxus art movement (though he never became a member). He continued making music until 1983 when he stopped writing and performing and instead devoted himself to his philosophy. Anyone keen to read some of his articles should go to henryflynt.org.

Equally, anyone keen to understand the intellectual background to Flynt's compositions should also take a visit. Below are a few excerpts from an essay of his that should give you an idea of the man behind the music: "My music is a sophisticated, personal extension of the ethnic music of my native region of the United States [North Carolina]... I intensify and  elevate the American ethnic musics to produce a music whose nearest correlative would be Hindustani music... I aspire to a beauty which is ecstatic and perpetual, while at the same time being concretely human and emotionally profound... the music should be intellectually fascinating because the listener can perceive and participate in its rhythmic and melodic intricacies, audacity of organization, etc.  At the same time, the music should be kinesthetic, that is, it should encourage dancing...most of all, the music should have an emotional profundity which comes from specificity of sentiment and passion... to be emotionally profound, music must be fiery, but at the same time it must have charming surprises and encourage intimacy."

But the music itself: what does it sound like? Can it possibly live up to the demands that Flynt makes of it? Well, amazingly, it can – the apparently bizarre mixture of minimalism, Indian ragas and hillbilly music does combine and produce in the listener the kind of effects that Flynt was after. There is, I would say, clearly a great deal of intellectual rigour behind the pieces on Graduation (as you might expect, given the above) but there is also a kind of ecstasy that emanates from it. Vitally, the thought does not weigh down the music and make it either didactic or cold; rather it sets it free. Perhaps these songs could be likened to mechanical toys, made with greatpatience and precision by a master craftsman. They are wound up and then let go; conceivably they could go anywhere and they could go onforever.

But all of this is too dry.Take Lonesome Train Dreams for example. The linear notes by Flynt describe it as a 'cowboy raga' and I can think of no better way to express it. Around a driving, funky beat steel guitars roam and riff for eleven minutes. But this song could go on forever – it is timelessand it manages to conjure up those images of desert highways withoutitself being remotely cliched. It is as catchy as hell and as far from academic abstraction as you could wish it to be. No Rights, another eleven-minute track, opens like a Doors song – I forget which one -with some hectoring boogie-woogie organ noises. In place of the oafish Morrison the organ is answered by some mean fiddle playing. And this takes place over another funky beat. This track rocks and truly is 'kinesthetic'. Virginia Trance is a glorious miniature whilst Conga replaces the fiddle with a sax. The sax squabbles over drums and janglyguitars and manages to convey rather more 'threat' than the fiddle: if Lonesome Train Dreams conjures thoughts of the open road then Conga suggests the sweat and menace of a dodgy roadside bar.

The album closes with Celestial Power, a twenty-minute incantation of a track – a guitar sound – or is a fiddle? – has been chopped up and messed about with. Over the twenty minutes there are hundreds of short, slightly changing repetitions of the sound. It is the aural equivalent of focussing on a spot of water out at sea and watching the waves move through it. As for the opening track – well, Graduation is an amazing song. On this one Flynt sings, although I am not sure it could really be described as singing. It opens with a lazy but confident electric guitar laying down the riff that will run throughout the song. Meandering lines of guitar interweave with Flynt's hesitant drawl. He is describing the trip he takes to bury his father's body. In this he is not alone – the graduation of the title describes the ceremony where all boys converge to dig the huge ditch that they bury their fathers in.There is much more to this album than that described – there is also humour, notably in the wonderful exclamation mark ending to A Portrait.

Crucially, and I think that this applies to most of the albums that I have reviewed for Incendiary, it is greater than the sum of its parts;this is not an example of being able to discern the musical ingredientsin the sense that the different inputs exist separately from those around them. As with bands such as Can, the influences are controlled and are used to create something genuinely new – it is the differencebetween eating a good stew and taking a nibble of all of the ingredients one at a time. In other words, it is all the difference.