The London Electric Guitar Orchestra
Kneel Down Like a Saint Gorilla and Stop
2:13 Music: CD003
John Bisset: guitar. Viv Dogan Corringham: guitar. Jorg Graumann: guitar. Ivor Kallin: bass guitar. Steve Mallaghan: guitar. Rick Nogalski: guitar. Nigel Teers: guitar. Bogo: Duplo two-string guitar. Adam Bohman: guitar, tape. David Holmes: conde hermanas. Richard Sanderson: voice. Milly Singha
The London Electric Guitar Orchestra is an idiosyncratic project spearheaded by Bisset (the regular members are the first eight listed above; the others guest on two tracks) which combines non-standard instrumentation with extended techniques and an interest in alternative notation systems. The music is often deeply indebted to the minimalist school, using repeating rhythmic ideas generated from prepared guitar effects. Their own “Frog“, for example, builds layers of riff-like textures and quasi-solos (not much melodic development goes on) very sucessfully. Unashamedly relying on distorted, rock-derived textures and pentatonic scales, it’s still much more interesting than most of what comes out of the out-rock stable and manages at times to suggest Steve Reich.
It’s a group effort mostly, and certainly what stays with you after the CD is finished is the ensemble sound, varied using effects and also the qualities of the sometimes exotic instruments which go by the generic name “electric guitar” (a “Duplo two-string” is not a thing you can buy in Denmark Street, I promise you). This being the case, it is impossible to pick out individual members for praise or blame — and there is a good bit of both to be handed out if the perpetrators could but be identified. Certainly some of these folk can really play. Certainly one or two are struggling. Nobody seems to care.
The Orchestra instead delights in the absurd, the comical and particularly anything which might confirm the worst suspicions of anyone who might have questions to ask about this kind of thing. On “System“, Singha wails as if being dropped into a chip fryer and “Haey!” is a piece lasting less than half a minute, at least a third of which consists of unaccompanied and pretty unpleasant burping. “Bonnie Georgie Campbell” is a setting of the traditional Scots lyric using lots of agressive strumming but no logic. Ex-member Richard Sanderson’s “Kite” sounds like it is about to turn into “Louie Louie” at any moment. More than one piece starts with a count-in, a technique that groups with the word “orchestra” in their name usually try to avoid. They have started using the slogan “Never Knowingly Understood”.
At their best, they pull it off and produce stuff which justifies their own PR (and combining humour with questionable aptitude is always going to be risky business). At their worst, they could be rehearsing something they all know isn’t working, just because the person who came up with it is the one who owns the PA. On my scorecard, this elegant analytic distinction yields just four lousy tracks and a full nine highly enjoyable ones. This, in layman’s terms, makes the album mostly good, occasionally bad. Which is better than most recordings of experimental music, which tend to be either mind-boggling from start to finish or uniformly execrable.
Sometimes, the lack of conventional technique is a stumbling block, but usually it’s not. The compositions are more related to process music than freeform expressionism, which means that fumbles, wrong notes and pinging, misfingered cock-ups can just become part of the process. This will annoy the hell out of the sixth-form scalemeisters who spend all day trying to learn Steve Vai licks. Even if one of these guys actually turning up to a L.E.G.O. gig is unlikely, the idea is enough to make at least this listener crack a smile. Richard Cochrane