ILM's 2005 collaborative mix project hoonja-doonja!

March 27, 2005

Fred Frith, "The Entire Works Of Henry Cow"

Eurgh, maximalism. Let's just say that this isn't an aesthetic with which I have ever formed much of a personal connection. As my partner always says, with a withering curl of the lip: too many notes. So if I must be maximalist, then please at least allow me to be minimalist with my maximalism.

In 1980, former Mott The Hoople keyboardist Morgan Fisher invited a wide range of performers to contribute pieces to an album project called Miniatures: A Sequence Of 51 Tiny Masterpieces. His only firm stipulation: that each piece should last no longer than one minute. The general idea was that contributors should aim to encapsulate a larger idea in a miniature format. In several cases, this entailed producing a miniaturised version of a larger work.

Thus it was that Roger McGough delivered a breakneck recitation of Longfellow's 22-stanza poem The Wreck Of The Hesperus, The Residents offered up a medley of the Ramones' We're A Happy Family and Bali Ha'i (from South Pacific), David Bedford compressed Wagner's Ring into one minute...

...and the experimental art/prog guitarist Fred Frith produced a one-minute sound collage comprised entirely of fragments taken from every track ever released by his former band Henry Cow, using a strict mathematical progression of his own devising.

In the album's sleeve notes, Morgan Fisher accurately identifies this as the "densest" track on the album - and you'd better believe that there was some stiff competition. It's perhaps also worth remembering that, in the absence of any available digital/sampling technology, assembling the track would have necessitated a painstakingly intricate process of manual editing and splicing. Minimal in duration; maximal in content, effort and effect; and hey, how many classic Cow tracks can you spot?

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