Dogon It: The Amazing, Slightly Altered Return of Craig Leon's Nommos and Visiting
by Dave Segal
on Wed, Jun 25, 2014 at 12:12 PM
Craig Leon played a key role in New York City’s music history during the ’70s and ’80s, producing the first records by Suicide, the Ramones, Blondie, and Richard Hell & the Voidoids. He also worked studio magic on releases by the Weirdoes, the Go-Betweens, Palais Schaumburg, and the Fall, among many others.
When he wasn’t helping other people manifest seminal recordings, Leon cut two albums that still sound ahead of their time and in their own bizarre lane: Nommos (1981) and Visiting (1982). Both have been reconfigured for RVNG Intl.’s Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1 archival series, which was released June 24 will hit shops Aug. 6. (Pitchfork is streaming it right now.) According to the press release, "Leon made subtle edits and compositional additions to both albums to enhance the connectivity and encourage infinite interpretation." If you have previous editions of these albums, you'll want to upgrade to RVNG Intl.'s versions.
Nommos, which originally came out on John Fahey's Takoma label, is one of the most innovative albums of the '80s. The only close comparison is Moebius/Plank/Neumeier's Zero Set, which came out in 1983. Nommos was inspired by Leon's 1973 encounter at the Brooklyn Museum with an exhibit of sculptures from the Dogon people of Mali, whose religion reputedly derives from experiences with an extraterrestrial species they called Nommos. Leon tried to envision what music from those beings would sound like. In places, the LP comes off like a rough draft for techno, but with percussion infused with a more organic timbre. The tracks here are minimal, hypnotic, and imbued with an alien vibrancy. When played out in DJ sets, they never fail to inspire curiosity and awe.
Visiting is less rhythm-oriented than Nommos, opting for a more kosmische aura, with feints toward blissful, high-quality, new-age vibes. Fans of Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Iasos will love it.
Press release after the jump.
The video, created by Andrew Strasser, features further abstractions of Dogon artwork captured in 3D at the Brooklyn Museum (where the inspiration for Leon's Nommos was seeded in the early 70s). Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. I makes its way into the cosmos today. Release Info
Craig Leon's seminal synthesizer albums Nommos and Visiting are finally re-editioned in definitive form as the Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1 for RVNG Intl.’s archival series.
Issued respectively by John Fahey's Takoma record label in 1980 and Leon's Arbitor private press in 1982, Nommos and Visiting were the twin brainchildren of studio wizard Craig Leon. Leon’s production was pivotal in realizing the debut recordings by Ramones, Blondie, Richard Hell and Suicide. While those albums broke ground in new worlds of sound, Leon's own debut album was arguably, if not literally, more alien.
In 1973, the Brooklyn Museum hosted a comprehensive collection of sculptures by the Dogon of the Republic of Mali, a tribe whose religion is based in reveries and recollections of a visit from an extraterrestrial species they named Nommos. Years after experiencing the exhibit, Leon remained fascinated by the idea of alien visitors sharing not just stories of their home-planet, but musical traditions as well. For the classically trained Leon, a puzzle was presented and a challenge in place: what would music sound like if handed down from an ancient alien species? And how best to imagine it?
Upon meeting Fahey in the late 70s, Leon pitched the concept as an opportune time to employ the latest and greatest synthesizer technology available. An avant empathist and eternally free spirit, Fahey enthusiastically green-lighted the project for his Takoma imprint. After a secluded week in an Austin, Texas studio with his partner, wife and collaborator Cassell Webb, Leon returned with a collection of incorporeal melodies generated by the Oberheim OB-X, Roland JP-4 and Arp 2600 synthesizers propelled by primitive rhythms programmed on a prototype of Roger Linn's nascent drum-machine, the LM-1.
Issued by Fahey with zero expectation of the same radio airplay Leon accomplished with his pop productions, Nommos now stands as an innovative example of cosmic-synth composition that wasn’t made for its time or any other. For this edition, Leon has in fact re-animated Nommos by re-recording the exact audio signals as preserved in the album's original studio notes. Every patch, tape-delay speed and outboard setting was transcribed as first scored, materializing the best possible audio from an album whose masters were lost in major label merger milieu years ago.
Additionally, the re-master of Visiting was supervised firsthand by Leon. As its title suggests, Visiting materialized in 1982 as a conceptual continuation of Nommos. The album is in equal measure more improvisatory and constructed than its predecessor. Both albums were intended to be listened to as a set in the first volume of Leon’s Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music (the title was an homage to Harry Smith's influential collection of folk music issued two decades prior). A creative evolutionist, Leon made subtle edits and compositional additions to both albums to enhance the connectivity and encourage infinite interpretation.
While reissues and bootlegs have appeared to relieve the demand for these records, this collection will stand as definitive versions authorized by Craig Leon himself. The vinyl edition will be housed in a 2xLP set that includes detailed artwork and two essays by Leon. The first tells the complete story of the stargazing Dogon people and their prescient understanding of cosmology. The second details Leon's adventure in creating the Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1, an epic story bookended on this side of history as one seamless synth classic.
Craig Leon’s Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1 is released today, June 24, 2014, as a double LP set on RVNG Intl.
01. Ring With Three Concentric Discs 02. Donkeys Bearing Cups 03. Nommo 04. Four Eyes To See The Afterlife 05. She Wears A Hemispherical Skullcap 06. One Hundred Steps 07. Region of Fleeing Civilians 08. Three Small Coins 09. Visiting 10. Details Suggest Fidelity To Fact 11. The Customs of the Age Disturbed