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Third Ear Band

Indo-Prog/Raga Rock

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Third Ear Band Alchemy album cover
3.16 | 54 ratings | 13 reviews | 11% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1969

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Mosaic (6:26)
2. Ghetto Raga (10:28)
3. Druid One (3:45)
4. Stone Circle (3:26)
5. Egyptian Book Of The Dead (8:52)
6. Area Three (8:29)
7. Dragon Lines (5:29)
8. Lark Rise (2:46)

Total Time 49:41

Line-up / Musicians

- Glen Sweeney / percussions
- Paul Minns / oboe
- Richard Coff / violin, viola
- Mel Davis / cello, slide pipes
- DJ John Peel / jaws harp
- Dave Tomlin / violin

Releases information

Toshiba (Japan)

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THIRD EAR BAND Alchemy ratings distribution

(54 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(11%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(33%)
Good, but non-essential (35%)
Collectors/fans only (17%)
Poor. Only for completionists (4%)

THIRD EAR BAND Alchemy reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
3 stars The first album from Third Ear Band sets the tone for the whole of their discography (but not the posthumous release The Magus just out this year) with their highly experimental sound based on medieval drones. All of the music is acoustic, slow evolving and have a small hypnotic power but nothing transcendental either. Some eastern influenced improvisation can bring a druggy feel to the music. DJ legend John Peel played Jew's Harp on this record.

If medieval music makes you drool with excitement and anticipation , beware as this is nothing in the Gryphon-type of music , but really more in the RIO genre and has a definitive minimalism influence. This debut album is IMHO the better one to get a good idea of what their real sound is: a long drone with many instrumental solos a bit like Terry Riley's A Rainbow In Curved Air.

A bit of a borderline inclusion for the Archives , this album is much worth a spin. Although many musicologists will not agree with this other classification, you should not have trouble finding TEB alongside contemporary classical music in libraries. I have also seen TEB records in classical music shpos filed after Cage and Stockhausen.

Review by lor68
2 stars Well their debut album represented the birth of an indo rock/"exotic" proto-prog band, sometimes being in advance for that time; but if you compare their style to that one of a few bands like Quintessence and also by considering the music (actually in some circumstances only) of one of the most famous ensemble in the UK such as Jade Warrior, you can not remain so astounded about that. the interest for the oriental music was a typical exigency in the UK, but it was also generated in other European countries where the artistic emancipation was a kind of protest against the society or the policy of the governments.

Mr Mel Davis for example, a temporary member, was conscious of this role and quite competent by playing his cello as well, but also the style of the other musicians was pretty good: ok, the music direction was clear, even though the output of their job was sometimes remains alone as an historical issue documenting a radical change in the world of music, but better things came afterwards!!

Review by Zac M
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This was my venture into the obscure sub-genre indo/raga-prog. It was an interesting one indeed. After hearing it, I am definitely interested in getting more albums by them. Their music is hard to describe. It's an acoustic blend of percussion and string instruments (violin, viola, and cello) with some oboe and recorder thrown into the mix. It definitely has an ethic and world-music feel to it and is an early example of such kinds of music.

Each track sucks the listener in and keeps their attention throughout the track. Each one is certainly entrancing and may seem at first hard to get into, but once you get into it you are hooked. The minimalism featured here is acoustic, which is even more unique. Most famous minimalist musicians are electronic artists (e.g. Eno's ambient work). Each track seems to flow to the next nicely.

An album like this is not necessarily essential, but deserves attention among prog fans. Anyone who is looking for a nice blend of various acoustic, minimalist, raga styles should look no further. Having not heard any other albums by the band, I cannot say how this one compares to them. However, this is still an interesting document of prog history (indo/raga) and deserves some listening. Three stars, well worth a listen.

Review by philippe
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Third ear Band remains unique in the history of progressive rock. This band reveals an eclectic, colourful, inspired musical "mantra", a multi influenced musical profile and consequently difficult to classify in a specific subgenre. "Alchemy" develops an achieved sense of multi-influences dialogue. Despite that Third Ear Band first started their career as a convnetional psychedelic prog-ish band, a large part of their discography (with this album included) is reserved to semi-acoustic improvisations, combining with talent medieval and "Eastern' raga harmonies into the formula a chamber music ensemble. By consequence acoustic elements prevail, all mixed in a rather medieval "world" climate, sometimes reaching the atmosphere to a beatic trance. The compositions process with modal scales, ragas, minimal modulations with reminiscence of some American contemporary classical composers (Terry Riley...). All tracks are composed according to the same model, making the emphasis on sustained motifs (for oboe or violin). Intriguing result and I would like to say very closed to Between's musical universe with its long, dancing oboe parts and incantatory "jazzy" felt. Their style is clearly orientated into modern "neo-shamanic" trance and "acid" acoustic folk-ish obscurities. The leading themes of this first album will be sublimated in the following effort. An innovative, strangely gorgeous acoustic psych release, worth to discover and a must for curious!
Review by ClemofNazareth
4 stars I bought this album solely out of curiosity after seeing the band given props as an influence by such diverse groups as Utopia, Kansas, and the Sex Pistols. After listening to it several times over nearly a year I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a moderately important piece of progressive music history, and that any influence over the previously-mentioned groups was more likely in the form of motivating them to more creative thinking than it was to actually impacting their musical styles.

As a musical work this will never be at the top of my list of albums to pop onto to the turntable on a whim, and none of the individual tracks will likely ever end up on any of the ‘favorites’ CD collections that get burned for use in the car. But if we concede that one of the important elements of progressive music is experimentation then Alchemy has to be seen as one of the forefathers of their genre, especially considering it was released about the same time the Beatles were still doing fairly docile stuff like “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, and a lot of bands that would shape progressive music were still mostly regional phenomena. In this case I wonder if world music is a better classification than indo rock, but that’s just semantics.

The eight tracks here are all generally similar in structure. The whole album is acoustic, with Glen Sweeney laying down a minimalist and erratic beat uwing hand drums, and the rest of the group offering up their various elaborations in what seems to be a fairly improvisational manner. When I hear this music today, I can see clear influences with many other bands I’ve listened to over the years. Some of the ones that leap to mind include the jazz group Oregon, Todd Rundgren, and really most of the album Pawn Hearts, so I think this music has probably had more impact on other progressive sounds than I would have thought prior to hearing it.

I’ve never thought of the oboe as a very interesting instrument, but it is one of the key elements to these tracks. Although the instrument by design gives off a bit of a dissonant and dark feel, the overall feeling here is not negative at all, but rather more reflective or even respectfully deferent. Jew’s harp is another instrument that doesn’t spring to mind as even a serious musical instrument, but here guest musician DJ John Peel uses it throughout to enhance the eastern/oriental feel of the music. About the only other sounds here are from a couple violins and a cello, which like the oboe are rather somber but not depressing and are improvisational in structure.

The most interesting piece is probably “Ghetto Raga”, an extended play raga with probably the closest thing to a melody that the album offers. In addition to the oboe there are also some slide pipes here, and the overall feel is like that of a journey. Closing track “Lark Rise” is probably the weakest, with an interesting violin progression but not much else being really developed. The rest of the album is fairly consistent.

Like I said, this isn’t some sort of critical cornerstone to the whole body of progressive music or anything, but it is probably pretty close to the beginning of raga rock, and clearly provided influences on a wide range of musicians that followed. Plus, it actually is a pretty nice listen if you’re looking for music that complements rather than dominates a social setting. Not quite background music, but not an in-your-face concert-in-a-box either. A very good album which for me helps to give context to a lot of other music of widely divergent genres but which share similar tendencies toward experimentation, improvisation, and just plain love of making music. Four stars.


Review by Eetu Pellonpaa
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars I was eager to hear this record with archaic improvisational music on it, but was slightly disappointed. The music is introduced with "Mosaic", being in my opinion a quite weird selection as for the first track, maybe the weakest song of the record. All of the tunes on the album here are improvisational runs for violins, viola, cello, oboe and percussions. This guarantees the aural texture being quite pleasant, but as the orchestra is small and orientation for variations quite minimal, the whole album appears very monotonous. This would not matter if the hypnotics would charm the listener, but on my instance this magick did not occur. There are some quite unconventional scales being used along with some more familiar European melodic note structures, and this album could be seen as medieval Near East and European music interpret through late 1960's psychedelic philosophies. Sadly as the players aren't very professional, though doubtlessly enthusiastic, the string instruments don't always stay in tune, and the improvisations won't always evolve to very interesting directions. An interesting try, the album covers are quite neat also. Liked their "Macbeth" soundtrack more though.
Review by Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars The original "world" music

The Third Ear Band origins began in the important '67 London underground. They inhabited many of the same haunts and knew some of the same people as the early Floyd, places such as the UFO club and London Free School, and people such as Blackhill management and John Hopkins. Early in '68 the first official line-up emerged and the band began the music for this album. Minimalist, avant-garde chamber drone would be my personal description of this music. Mostly it consists of acoustic instruments, strings, and oboe with hand percussion. The approach is one of constant improvisation or so it would seem, no doubt they did have plans but you wouldn't know it from listening. Free-form playing is the style in a droning pattern not unlike Eno in some ways, and also sounding a bit like Oregon in approach. This was pretty cutting edge for the time and some claim this is the first world music album. It is often interesting if you have patience and without question was intended for consumption by the chemically-aided mind frame. I appreciate the journey and the approach and yet unlike Eno and Oregon this is not a band I enjoy playing very often. Try as I might to meet this on its intellectual level it still manages to irritate me a bit-not nearly as much as the unlistenable "Abelard and Heloise" but a little. This is a good album and an important work that should be of interest to avant fans and those interested in the origins of world music. Challenging is an understatement. 6/10

Review by Kazuhiro
4 stars A lot of progressive bands that pursue very various forms and the music characters exist in all over the world. Construction and the revolution of music with diversity to say nothing of the band classified into the item of a progressive band might have been done in the age. Act of exactly reflecting element based on advanced view and philosophically in music for band and musician who pursues progressive music. Realization exactly for music that can be called progressive. It is not an exaggeration to say that the band that concretely reflects thought and the expression that exists in the place where the category of music was exceeded in the fullest sense in music is this Third Ear Band and the realization of thought to have to express in this album that they announced at the same time might be involved therefore.

Methodology of thought and expression reflected for music character at which Third Ear Band aimed. Music to express in this debut album is called and Glen Sweeney that plays the role of the leader of this band is said, "The music of Third Ear Band is an echo of space". It is one space expressed in the name that is exactly called Third Ear Band and a part of the establishment of thought. And, it will be able to be guessed that it is concretely shown by "Alchemy" that is the concept of this album.

Glen Sweeney who is the institutor of Third Ear Band plays the role to the music character as a percussionist. It is said that Glen Sweeney was performed with helper's role it participates in the activity of the music that Terry Riley did. And, it had details to be on the register in the group of Free Jazz in the middle of the 60's. And, it comes to take an active part in the band that is called "The Giant Sun Trolley" at the time of 1967. Active bands were bands such as Pink Floyd and Soft Machine in Scene of music in London at that time. It was one of the existence where The Giant Sun Trolley was put in the situation in the UFO club of London that had been used as a base of the activity of music. The member of the band will change places before long. Dave Tomlin of the Violin player who is related to the creation of their music leaves the band in 1967. And, the name of the band shifts to the band that is called "The Hydrogen Jukebox". However, it is said that the event suffering from damage from which machine parts is stolen happened them in live. The change in this form becomes the nucleus of this Third Ear Band.

Glen Sweeney has directionality to take an avant-garde element and the sound to thought that has it to pursue the music character at which the self aims further. The music character of Third Ear Band comes to have Blackhill Enterprises and relations known by the management of Pink Floyd. Third Ear Band exchanges the contract with Harvest from the flow of the relation.

The recording is done in Abbey Road Studios as for this album at the end of the year of 1968. The band has seceded after the recording though Cello player's Mel Davis participated in the recording. And, it might be a point to have to make a special mention of the participation of John Peel known the DJ's working as the player of Jaws Harp. It is said that time when the album is announced is July, 1968. The theory said the announcement in May, 1968 exists according to a certain theory, too.

Third Ear Band has participated in the work that is called "Standard Music Library" because of Ron Geesin known on business of Pink Floyd before the recording of this album is recorded as a supplementation. At that time, the band has the theory said that it had appointed the name that is called "National-Balkan Ensemble". And, Glen Sweeney that plays band leader's role also has the career said that it performed to forward's play by "Yoko Ono" with his wife at this time.

"Alchemy" has been appointed to this album as a concept. Alchemy is exactly an idea assumed to be the base in the field of the chemistry. The start of the chemistry originates the edge in the belief as can construction in "Precious metals" by repeatedly processing "Base metal". The picture drawn in front of this album might realistically indeed show alchemy. The symbolical pattern that is called "Egg of the philosophy" is drawn in Front Cover. And, "Sun" and "Moon" are drawn in Back Cover. The part of "Larks'Tongues In Aspic" of King Crimson in which exactly the same thought is reflected might be able to be caught repeatedly. A technical element of music and the sound of musical instruments will be only the secondary expressions when the music character of this band is considered. They are exactly expressing one thought and a philosophical part in music in this album. The methodology concerning the expression informs the listener of progressive existence in a true meaning. The repetition of the melody repeated with musical instruments means the act of alchemy.

"Mosaic" Construction and repetition of sound with tension with stringed instrument. The melody of Oboe flows in the space attended with an experimental element. Part of repetition with fast and slow of Cello. And, the sound of the percussion instrument that Glen Sweeney repeats completely decides the theme of this album. The construction of the melody in close relation to irregularity offers the element of the refinement.

The melody of the stringed instrument and Oboe sounds beautifully in "Ghetto Raga". The taste of the music of the Middle East is elegantly expressed. This is not music for the environment. It will be able to be called complete Prog Rock with which their thought is blocked. The performance combines according to the rhythm that the percussion instrument produces. Repetition of sound of upper register of Violin and Cello. Or, the melody of Oboe might emphasize the part of the melody a little. The part as Indo Prog has gone out strongly. Oboe and Violin part coming in succession. Ensemble of the band might consist on thought. The melody repeated as much as possible is one in complete. The tune opens the power gradually involved and advances.

"Druid One" intersects the melody that there is a tension in a steady rhythm and advances. The melody of Oboe creates one space. The listener is invited to the place where the frame of music was exceeded by the sound that the stringed instrument produces though the repetition of the percussion instrument gives an enchantment impression. A composition advanced as a little experimental part and an avant-garde element twine might be steady.

As for "Stone Circle", their tastes might be exactly demonstrated. The sound of Oboe and Slide Pipe comfortably twines round the repeated rhythm. The culture and the thought of the Middle East are reflected well for the melody. The repetition is alchemy. The composition in which the chamber orchestra is reminiscent is a little splendid as atmosphere each other.

"Egyptian Book Of The Dead" has the melody with gloss in close relation to the sound of the decoration that flows quietly. The technology of the performance of the expressions.. doesn't pass. The performance to make the name of a song converted into music exactly and to make it make to the embodiment might be along the theme of this album. Melody with strong experimental part. And, rhythmically of the percussion instrument consistently repeated. The tune increases the repetition and the melody that the stringed instrument does and the tension is increased repeatedly. The part of Oboe also contributes to the tune.

"Area Three" is a part of the melody that gives the impression of the refinement. And, rhythmically of the percussion instrument that shifts to a part steady from an intermittent part. The repetition of the stringed instrument continues. Width is given to the atmosphere of the tune by adding the thickness to the sound of the percussion instrument. The melody that repeats stability and instability decides the music character that they create. Especially, the theme and the reflected thought might be remarkably expressed in this album.

The band advances in "Dragon Lines" completely in union. Flow of repetition by Violin and Cello. And, the sound of a rhythm of the percussion instrument that expands the width of the tune and an effective decoration flows. Construction of sound in which Oboe and deep bass are effectively shown. They consistently make a good flow. Opening of rising emotion gradually. And, it progresses while making an element of the Middle East and an experimental part act well.

"Lark Rise" completely demonstrates the taste of Indo-Prog. The performance to construct a complete melody and the rhythm is refined. It is a tune on which the theme of this album and their performances have exactly acted well. And, the repetition means alchemy as a result.

Part of opening to expression of thought that has already been constructed with debut album that they announced and music character. And, the cosmogony to express consistently. There might have been a flow with a little experimental shade of meaning when the age was considered as a situation, too. However, if the band and the album that can be called progressive in a true meaning when the theme on which they worked and the music character are considered are taken up, it is likely to be consolidated in their debut albums. The performances of men who worked on a grand theme are here.

Review by Dobermensch
2 stars 'Alchemy' sounds like a bunch of guys trying to play after each drinking a bottle of whisky. It's tuneless and actually quite irritating and repetitive. Nothing seems to sound in key. If that's an attempt at being experimental - then it fails miserably. The clay pots they use for percussion are unadventurous and flat. I always imagine with hindsight that this album sounds better than it actually is but each time I play it I'm disappointed and usually struggle to make it to the end. The unlikely appearance of John Peel of all people doesn't make it any more palatable. He twangs away playing a Jews Harp. On the plus side, it has a definite old worldly creepiness about it - as if it were actually recorded in the 1600's and the front cover's pretty good. It's alright if played once a year - but does not make good repeated listening. Doing that would drive any sane person completely mental.
Review by siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic
4 stars The year 1969 was amazing year of explosive experimentalism in every direction with artists like Cromagnon, Amon Duul II, Captain Beefheart, early Alice Cooper and not to mention prog classics like King Crimson and East Of Eden hitting the marketplace leaving listeners grasping for new nomenclature to slap onto the hitherto unheard sounds spewing forth. While free-form and improv were certainly nothing new having been a staple of the jazz world for decades, the rock scene was relatively new to the game and the freedom that the 60s offered gave a green light to artists far and wide to fly their freak flags as high as they could possible fly.

One such band was the THIRD EAR BAND which was formed by Dave Tomlin who participated in free-form jazz sessions at the London Free School and took the show over to the famous UFO Club where he would solicit a free-form group of audience members and band members after hours to engage in spontaneous jams around Indo-raga, European folk, Medieval classical and experimental styles. While they gained the name Giant Sun Trolly, they soon attracted the attention of the EMI Harvest label, changed their name to THIRD EAR BAND and found minor success with their first two albums. This debut ALCHEMY displays all the styles that they set forth in the club scene in all their improv jam session freedoms and laid down to tape.

While loosely tied in with progressive rock, this isn't rock at all but rather a strange mix of tribal percussion such as chimes, tabla and hand drums, chamber rock style oboe along with violin, viola and cello and other strange instruments such as slide pipes. This first album was actually promoted by the great DJ John Peel who contributes jew's harp on a couple tracks. The music flows much like an Indian raga in a linear way with the percussion keeping a constant rhythm while the strings and winds are allowed to float off into a fantasy world as they create fluttering melodies and build up tension until they transmogrify into too-fast-to-hear-individual- notes-ish type droning. The recorder seems to bring about the Medieval flavor which makes this album sound sort of like a Indo- raga prototype of Gryphon's first album.

While ALCHEMY may have come as a shock to the rock'n'rollers engaged in the psychedelic branch of the genre at the time, in reality it wasn't overly different in approach to what Sun Ra & His Astro-Infinity Arkestra were dishing out on their most outlandish albums at the time. Sun Ra would regularly use similar sounding tribal drumming with his improvised jazz section with similar bouts of dissonance and avant-garde compositional structures. THIRD EAR BAND takes a similar approach with more of a classical chamber ensemble of instruments that creates thick and impenetrable counterpoint melodies between the string section and the woodwinds. The tension is thick and it all comes across as a war march through the streets of the capital city (wherever that happens to be) as to rally the troops for an impending attack on a neighboring city state. Somehow they manage to keep a Medieval sort of feel throughout.

ALCHEMY was one of the earliest forms of psychedelic freak folk that showcased dueling woodwinds, completely unhinged violin and viola freak outs alongside meditative percussive beats. While most of the tracks adhere to that description, the near ten minute "Egyptian Book Of The Dead" sounds more like an early electronic industrial album as it creates and eerie atmospheric soundscape out of chimes and woodwinds that sound like the wind revealing esoteric knowledge in coded form. The track builds tension as the instruments come to life and eventually a sort of Native American powwow beat occurs but the crazy noises that come out of the cello are startling and totally frightening! This track is totally unhinged and the most successful at totally freaking me out with all the demonic tones, squeaks and frenetic entropy breaking out at the speed of light. The drums ratchet up the tension as the track nears completion as the squawking swarm of instrumentation begins to sound like a plague from hell ready to consume all of reality. OMG! I can't take it anymore. This has to be the scariest and most intense track of all the 60s!

After all is said and done, THIRD EAR BAND leave you feeling like you've heard something that you have never experienced before and even well into the 21st century, i still have never heard any other artist that sounds even close to the style that they displayed on their debut album ALCHEMY. While the band would change things up over time, this early artifact is a gem of avant-garde musical improv expression and most likely one of the major influences of many of the free-form electronic thinkers such as Throbbing Gristle, Coil and Nurse Without Wound that would take a similar stylistic approach only direct it into the world of electronica rather than the Medieval freak folk instrumentation. This is certainly a jarring one, but a totally unique musical experience that only could have come out in the completely tripped out year of 1969. While not as musical as Comus or Spirogyra, this one more than makes up for its lack of compositional complexities with clever sprawling drone inspired raga marches.

Review by Warthur
4 stars Compared to other attempts to blend experimental/progressive rock and folk from the same era, Third Ear Band's debut album sounds astonishingly ahead of its time. Comus might steer for similarly dark and bleak territory, Tangerine Dream on Zeit might use cello to a similarly doomy effect, but all that came later; I'm not aware of anyone in 1969 doing anything remotely similar to this.

There is a certain raga influence - right down to Glen Sweeney using tabla for much of the album - but it's far more artfully handled than the usual "add a bunch of sitar to some psychedlic pop" approach that the Beatles-imitators of the era would run to. Instead, the band use the repetitious and hypnotic aspects of Indian music as merely one tool in their portfolio, with aspects of free jazz, avant-garde classical, and folk music all blending together.

The downfall of a lot of experimental music lies in becoming so obtuse as to be inaccessible, or so technical as to lose sight of feeling. Not so here; Third Ear Band clearly have a very specific mood they wish to evoke here, and they communicate it adeptly. At the same time, the material is intricate enough to reward mutiple listens. The overall impression is of a free jazz band transported to the medieval era, and that's an intriguing enough proposition to keep the album interesting for its running time.

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