By Richie Unterberger
In the course of their first few albums, Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause broke a lot of ground in the art of recording the synthesizer, still a young and futuristic instrument in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It's sometimes overlooked, however, that the records were not solely vehicles for synthesizer experimentation, but also varied musical statements drawing from numerous strands of popular styles. Just as their first Warner Brothers LP, In a Wild Sanctuary (also reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice Music), had differed from their earlier records, so did its follow-up Gandharva reach into new directions. Jazz, blues, rock, and gospel all played their part on a recorded divided between studio tracks and an entire LP side cut live at San Francisco's magnificent Grace Cathedral. "Basically, we just wanted to jam and have a great musical time -- bringing music from a point of noise to a place very much quieter and more contemplative," explains Bernie Krause today.
The LP also grew
Beaver and Krause's ambitions to create the first live quadraphonic
album, though as it turned out quadraphonic sound would not catch on as
stereo had. That idea originated from discussions with Jac Holzman, who
had introduced the pair to each other several years before, and whose
company, Elektra, had issued Beaver and Krause's The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music
(another title reissued on CD by Collectors' Choice) in 1968. "Jac was
always ahead of the game when it came to implementing new
technologies," praises Bernie. "I don't recall exactly how the
conversation came up, but I'm sure it did at some point. Quad was
frustrating because, while it worked with the interior environments
extant in Japan (where it was invented), it did much less well in home
environments in America and died as a result. Also, there was no
agreement on a universal delivery format."
The journey from noise to quiet would start with the blues-rock of "Saga of the Blue Beaver" at the beginning of side one, with Mike Bloomfield and Ronnie Montrose sharing the lead guitar duties, though it wasn't any old blues-rock, as Beaver and Krause both played Moog synthesizer on the track. Bloomfield, remembers Krause, "lived (for a while) in the same musical community as we did, and he asked if he could join us on a session. He was agitated the day of the session, for some reason not related to us. When he came into the studio, he took his guitar out of his case and announced that he had one take in him, and to roll the tape. We did. He played. When he finished, he put his guitar in the case and walked out of the studio. Last time we saw him alive." As for Montrose, who had yet to form his own band, "He had asked us if he could play on one of our sessions."
"Nine Moons in Alaska," entirely performed on Moog synthesizer, was sparked by Beaver and Krause's contributions to the soundtrack of the movie Performance, starring Mick Jagger in his first (and best) film role. "After finishing what we were asked to do on Performance, we wanted to 'improve' on the ideas we thought should have been in the film," notes Krause. "Hence 'Nine Moons.'" "Walkin'," the next track, takes yet another path with its a cappella gospel-like one-take vocal by Patrice Holloway, who sang backup on records by the likes of Neil Young, Joe Cocker, and Billy Preston during the same era. It's not quite a solo performance, however, since as Krause detailed in the original liner notes, "So perfect was her pitch that Paul was able to lay a piano track in Satie fashion some weeks later without altering the speed or the pitch. The voice was then processed with Moog, VSO and Echoplex on 16-track."
Also in a gospel vein was side one's closer, "Walkin' By the River," with Clydie King (one of most oft-used session singers of all time, heard on recordings by everyone from the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan on down) among the assembled voices, and jazz great Ray Brown on bass. As unlike previous Beaver and Krause recordings as they were, the gospel-influenced tracks were in keeping with the overall themes of the record. For, as Krause notes, "Gandharva was an attempt to express our collective spirituality musically. It wasn't so much a religious album, since both Paul and I were devoted secularists, despite Paul's affinity to Scientology."
Side two of the record would be recorded live in one of the great spiritual structures of the American West Coast on February 10 and 11 of 1971. "We were looking for places with long reverb times," recalls Bernie. "Even checked out an abandoned missile silo north of Sacramento and accidentally dropped a multi-track recorder into the well, smashing it to bits (much to the horror of WB). Grace Cathedral seemed much safer, and we had more control over the quad space, setting up mics throughout the cathedral and having [baritone saxophonist Gerry] Mulligan and [alto saxophonist and flautist Bud] Shank wander through the space so that the perspectives would constantly change. Most exercise they ever had."
Jazzman Gerry Mulligan took an especially prominent role in the Grace Cathedral recordings, even writing the only track on the LP, "By Your Grace," not penned by Beaver and Krause themselves. "He was always a musical favorite of ours," says Bernie. "We just called him up. Always cynical, with a rather nasty contentious edge to his personality, he agreed to come if we put him up in a nearby 'class' hotel on Nob Hill, [and] provided him with all the room service he could handle [and] an electronic keyboard instrument. We did. He did. And we all hit it off pretty well. Later did a movie score together titled Final Programme, recorded and released in England. We were friends until he retitled 'By Your Grace' and recorded a cover of the same tune under a different name so he could claim our half of the copyright. Turns out others had suffered the same experience while working with him." Also on the Grace Cathedral tracks were Krause (on Moog synthesizer), Beaver (on pipe organ), Gail Laughton on two harps (simultaneously), and guitarist Howard Roberts, who'd played on Beaver and Krause's previous album, In a Wild Sanctuary.
And what does the title track of Gandharva refer to? As Krause wrote in the original album notes, "Gandharva (from Hindu mythology) means the celestial musician. And it's a score from a nonexistent film." Elaborates Bernie now, "Since we were doing so many films at the time, we wanted to get a leg up on the process and create a score before a film was shot. Turns out that's exactly what happened, since Gandharva was the inspiration for the score [of] The Final Programme. In the US, it was released under the title The Last Days of Man on Earth."
Unfortunately, Beaver and Krause were able to complete only one more album together before Paul Beaver's unexpected death in early 1975. That album, All Good Men, is also available by Collectors Choice Music on CD, and would be another artistic change of direction for the duo as their time on the Warner Brothers came to an end. -- Richie Unterberger
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