Wah Wah Rec Can Am Des Puig : Supersonic SoundsThe Book of Am part I,& Part 2 (SP/UK/F, 1970-1978)***°°
A couple years ago a group member of ‘Book of Am’ contacted me, because I once airplayed the 1998 Synton bootleg reissue of the 'Book of AM' album. He told me how he was surprised at the collector’s interest, and that this was not the name of the group, which was actually Can Am des Puig*, while Book of Am was the album title, and how he wished that he would be able to re-release the album as it was intended, together with the illustrated book and with the second never released album. About a year ago this publication was announced on the Gong homepage, and I inscribed myself immediately, but it took over a year before the album finally was released. I can imagine why, because it must have cost a fortune to make photo masters of the delicate watercolour paintings. I can only say that the expensive price is worth the purchase. It has an introduction in English, Spanish and Catalan. The original group name seemed to have been left out now so as not to confuse anyone.
The background story :
After having settled down in Ibiza after their studies, Juan Arcocha and Leslie MacKenzie decided to go on a kind of spiritual quest, looking for a creative source of inspirations. The last stop of their long journey was Bodh-Gaya in India, in December 1973, where the Tibetans prepared New Year celebrations with the Daila Lama. It was the place where Siddhartha became the Buddha some 4000 years ago. It seemed to be the same ideological destiny point for any foreigners with similar goals. They met a Mexican improvised revolutionary music group led by one Alberto Ruz, Icelanders led by Gerhardt of Ice, who made illustrations with poetry, based upon Moslem, South American and Greek thoughts, and Brother John, who was specialized in Christianity and Zen. For them it seemed as if religions and philosophies of the whole world came gathered together in a summit of an experience.
Back in Ibiza they wanted to transmit their collected visions, which led to an etched book, ‘Garland of Visions of the Absolute’, based upon an obscure poem that was the basis of Advainta Vedanta (experiencing the non-dualistic reality). The times were right and the book sold well. So in 1975 they started a second book based upon three parts : morning, afternoon and evening, with 25 etchings, and texts based upon a collection of poems and songs they found representable as examples of what inhabited common ideas in religions and some other group philosophies. The texts were collected along their travels and from a research session at the Warburg Institute in London. The first idea was, to accompany the art with song improvisations on guitar, flute, suji-box and drum. The book was finished mid 1977, but the colours were too subtle that they said in Madrid they couldn’t print it. Disappointed they returned home via Deia, where Robert Graves had lived since 1929, trying to meet him, because a Welsh poem “Song of Amergin” was in this book and the group had liked his version in “The White Goddess”, and refered many times to it. At the place there was held a meeting with musicians, where Daevid Allen turned up. Daevid told him about his work with Soft Machine, about Gong, presented his partner and artist Gillie Smyth, and the Banana Moon studio. He loved the idea of making a record of the book of Am, and the group quickly took the opportunity. Guests were Patrick on 12-string guitar, Stephanie Shepard and Pat Meadows (not mentioned in the liner notes) on flute, Phil Shepherd on percussion and some vocals, and Lally Murray on voice (not mentioned on the published LP). At the end of the session two Gong enthusiasts from UK also participated: Jerry C. Hart and Tony Bullocks, together with Catalan singer Carmetta Mansilla, a trio that joined their weekly improvisation sessions and became part of the group. Daevid sold them cheaply a 4-track recorder. At that stage Jean-Paul Vivini, came to the group with a synthesizer. From January to March 1978 they recorded two open real tapes of 45 minutes each. The recordings were produced in a logic order to accompany the etchings. Daevid also took care that the first album found a publisher that printed the first master by the end of that year. They didn’t come to publish part 2, or to go further that part II of the morning section because of family obligations. Perhaps we can still expect in the afternoon and evening times of their lives the continuing of this project ? I surely hope that the release and recognition of their hard work now becomes or is like their midday experience.
The songbook :
The 144 paged book can be read partly and vaguely as a story but can more be seen as a source of inspirations with some common themes that holds them together. I’m glad to see how most texts refer to the inspiration of music and a definition and spiritual/religious context of music. Just a few texts are more vaguely ideas that they wanted to take with them as some/luggage on their travel/quest, while a few other stories sound like experiences on a journey, within the triple context of morning/afternoon/evening. Visually it has something of William Blake’s poetry with drawings and engravings. -(William BLake also showed his uniting mystic visions on religious and human-spiritual themes, of which some of his work now and then was partly put into music as well)-. This is more like an amateur form of the kind, with clearly structured lines and forms, associated from known or less known drawings and sources and compilations of their own invention. The texts that come from Welsh (book of Taliesin, Mabinogion) and British origin (British Edda, R.Graves, W.Blake), and come from Ancient Egyptian (book of the dead, papyrus of Ani, pyramid texts, book of breathings), Hermetic, Chassidic, Greek (Hesiod theogony, Aeneid), Icelandic (Edda), Biblic, Tibetan Buddhist (songs of Milarepa), Indian (poems of Kabir, Tantric yoga, Upanishads, Abharva Veda), Babylonic and Zoroastrian (Nuyaishes), Taoist and other sources, while the etchings also contain herbal associations. This whole collection looks for a timeless, inspiring and commonly uniting source. The art book in this way can work also inspiring for any future musical inspirations, for who knows any followers who can try something similar, based upon this book.
All the necessary background notes and references were added on additional pages.
The music :
CD1: The most beautiful tracks for me are each time, the openers of sections, or the openers of a spiritual energy of a strong focus, amongst more improvised tracks that are more slowly and continually still developing, ie open ended in some way. “The Book of Am” starts with the harmonic singing of “Am” (where Om can be expected), followed by the beautiful “The Song Of AM”, a song which introduces the songbook.* This track is comparable to Incredible String Band, and has a beautiful, delicate dreamy melancholic sphere, with flute and guitar improvisation, and female angelic vocals, a track, alone, making it worth checking out the album, followed by a well fitting “the song of the void” (from Papyrus of Ani). Several of the following tracks are in a simpler and more improvised style compared to the aforementioned ISB, and with a different focus and interest. “Fire” is free improvised, with ethereal female vocals and electronic effects, becoming air-like thin. After “The Cauldron”, and by the time of “O Keeptress” (a track collected from the Icelandian poet Gernardt of Ice -mentioned before in the introduction-), this trio of songs by the same vocalist, gives an impression of being a bit too sparsely arranged ; they might have sounded nicer with just a bit more arrangement on them. A welcome change is the very beautiful first song of Morning, “As the wind blows” (Tagore) with tampura, tabla and guitar improvisation, with very self-unfolding energy, and with beautiful heartfelt, celebrative vocals that are like an ode to life. This is followed by the beautiful “Hear the voice of the bard” (W.Blake) with a melancholic singing-with-heart, by Juan Arcocha, with a similar vocalic focus as on the previous “Song of Am” and perhaps “Song of the void”. The song accompanied by delicate 12-string guitars picking with bits of echo, fit also beautifully with the original engraving by the songbook artist. This is followed by the next tampura droning track, “I am that living Soul” (pyramid texts), (comparable in style to “As the wind blows”). The tampura’s Indian droning core is combined with rhythmic, more earthly coloured hand percussion, which in combination and with additional flutes, make a perfect harmony with the higher region territories to which the vocals sing to, as a beautiful homage with spiritual-life-energy. CD2: This sphere unfolds further on “Who can be muddy” (Lao Tse), with acoustic guitars, and vibrating electronic music, and vocals, “Musical of the Spheres” (orphic tablet), and “Hermes”, the last track is once more with male vocals, followed by "Taliesin Bardic Lore" (a track which is accidentally not listed as a title on the track list page). All these tracks have a similar, delicate and beautiful quality. But also, "Enchanted Bard", which is accompanied by acoustic and amplified guitar, tampura and a bit of electronic touches, is truly enchanting. It comes into the condition of an almost too perfect moment, which is taken into a continuum for a while. "The White Lion on the Mountain" is one of the so many songs by the enlightened Milarepa, here completely newly invented into a psychfolk/acid folk teritory. "I streched Forth" (Thomas Aquinas) is the most psychedelic track, in an Indian raga mode (voice, guitar, flute, percussion). "Love’s Strength" has even more percussion, is almost ritualistic, and with the additional electronica gets a pretty weird avant-garde, atmospherical touch. Only one track of the third section of the book, 'Afternoon', was recorded, which is "I am Yesterday", a text taken from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. This seems to be a very poetic text with deeper contexts, referring to some hermetic principles.
I was amazed by this second’s album's overall quality, which sounds like a more consistent, enjoyable album even, compared to the already great first record. I'm really glad that with this book it isn't missed, at least not by those who can afford it, and are quick enough to order, or by all the usual blogs related thieves who find one collector who doesn't care to share the music. In this case the album will still remain a bit obscure.
This is a limited Edition of 2x500 copies, packaged in a hardcover book with 2 vinyl LPs or 2 cd's.
* I asked for a confirmation of Jerry Hart, to ask if I remembered it well. He answered me : "Can Am des Puig means 'House of Am on the Hill' in Catalan. It's the name of Juan and Leslie's house in Ibiza and was also the adoptive name of their rented house in Deia, where we recorded the album. (Can = house, Puig = hill or mountain, hence the 'Puig Mayor' in Mallorca is the highest mountain on the island. BTW, Puig is pronounced 'pooch'). While we were never a 'band' as such and never played gigs or any public performances, attributing the music to the house where the music was played and recorded is very appropriate."
* PS. Song of Am does not refer to the Egyptian book of the Am-Tuat. Am is only a variation of the concentrating opening mantra "Om", which has variations like "Aum" and the in Christianity known "Amen".
Associated interesting links :
Ancient Egypt :