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Incantation, secret energy and " enthusiasm " airs in third ear band's music

Written by Philippe Blache

(The alchemy Museum in Kutna Hora)

Born during the expansion and death of 60s psychedelic rock, TEB musical collective represents a powerful and unique quartet of chamber music (led by Glen Sweeney on percussion and Paul Minns on oboe). The band very personal, refined style is deeply charged by eastern, colourful musical harmonies, semi-medieval influences, and mystical impulses. Their work is characterised by a musical notion starting from a "modal" idea. The main source of interest comes from long improvisations based on pure and static harmonies. Their first two albums "Alchemy" (1969) and "TEB" (1970) prefigure progressive rock in its most esoteric manifestations. In the following examination I will refer mainly to their debut.

Third Ear Band inscription into world, ethnic inspired music is evident but we also have to consider the legacy of medieval and Pythagorean music.

- During the Ancient Greece period, Pythagoras and also Platon developed a musical theory, identifying a relationship between astronomy and the harmony of spheres. According to Pythagoras, there is a relationship between numerical proportions of musical consonant sounds and proportions directed by the law of Universe. The sound is fixed in function by the speed and distance compared to Earth. Later we will speak about Pythagorean "monochord". It refers to one single chord played in different pitches, delivering a continuous, apparent repetitive movement.

Third Ear Band violinists and cello players (Dave Tomlin, Richard Coff etc.…) seem to be fond of the "monochord" technique and many of their musical sequences feature the use of significant "petrified" effects.

- Third Ear Band's analogy with medieval music first comes from the fact that the musicians use aesthetic codes and motifs which refer to epic, dancing chants and fragments of minstrels. The use of chords and the intimacy of a small chamber music ensemble represent a force to cultivate this allusion to itinerant, pastoral and heroic medieval themes. This process would be at the base of their two soundtracks Abelard & Heloise (1970) and Music from Macbeth (1972) dedicated to the dark Middle Ages. The concise musical notations of the violin and hand percussion parts are convincing examples of Third Ear Band's major interest in the secular and distinctive dialectic of medieval music.

- The eastern aesthetic is explored in the ecstatic dances provided by abundant oboe passages. The approach consists of accumulating a coherent floating, flowing motif based on cyclical percussion pulses which determine the movement of time passing. The improvised oboe parts made of free musical sequences with reminiscences of "Syro-Egyptian" and Turkish soloist voices reflect human respiration and the frenetic exercise of collective rituals. This orchestration is sometimes reminiscent of dervishes’ dances from India and Morocco. The spectacular aspects and growing trance states demonstrate the evident extension to neo-shamanism and the physical actions of certain eastern and folkish melodies.

-The mythico-ritual horizons of Third Ear Band's musical arguments take their entire dimension in aural sensations. The rhythm of the percussion, the metaphoric / dancing oboe parts and the droning violin scales increasingly create an emotional state which inspires an ascension to Heaven. A primitive, primordial and hidden energy comes first from the oboe which here is the instrument of frenzy. The monotonous and obsessive rhythms communicated by percussion are connected to organic effects, a universal vibration we can detect in every culture. The sound stimulation provoked by TEB's ritual percussion, violin loops and perpetual oboe sequences creates a driving musical respiration, a direct resonance to inner perceptions. The rhythm, the dynamic of repetition and the ritual accelerations are the main ingredients to legitimise a music which opens a new communion with spherical, spiritual harmonies.

Third Ear Band cult works & appearance:

-Alchemy (1969 / composed for a small chamber music orchestra)
-Third Ear Band (1970 / composed for a small chamber music orchestra)
-Fata Morgana (1970 / a fiction documentary from Werner Herzog about the origins and dynamics of Africa throw cultural & ritual time. A magnificent TEB musical appearance in the background, on dreamy Saharan landscapes.)

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