As human beings, I think it’s safe to say that in our dying hours, no matter what our religion or views on life, that we all want to be remembered. Whether it’s for the good that we feel we’ve done, the influence we’ve had on a person’s life of just for the simple fact that we don’t want our life to be in vain, I think this process inevitably crosses a person’s mind in their dying hours, if not LONG before then. And I can’t help but think that music is as good a way as any of striving to ensure your legacy lives on. People could be listening to your music many centuries in the future; they might not know who you are, who you voted for, what your favourite type of cheese was or what car you drove, but one thing they’d know for sure is that you existed because of this music that was made that transcends generations and laughs in the face of time’s degenerative path. But of course, this isn’t the case for everyone who puts out a record. There are infinitely more bands that failed to get picked up or sell more than a few thousand records than those who really made it big, than those who people are likely to listen to in a few generations’ time. Yet it’s my opinion that of these people of whom society labels as failures, if they even contribute the tiniest quark, the smallest possible fragment of an idea to the future, they’ve left a legacy: a legacy often only made possible by others in the future who use this idea and perhaps expand upon it. Thus for you today I have excavated the 1976 album Another Kind of Space by the little known Flying Island: a band so little know that their legacy doesn’t even live on through their own music; it lives on through someone else’s music.
For you regular readers of this blog (if there are any) you may recall the article I wrote about DJ Shadow’s masterpiece Endtroducing…. about 9 months ago. In it I sung the praises of the DJ for his innovative use of sampling; about twisting and flipping songs from their original context, piecing bits of completely unrelated songs together to create something vastly different and virtually indescribable. It remains to this day one of my all time favourite albums and one of the hardest to describe despite my best attempts to do so. One of the unquestionable highlights is a piece called What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 4); a trippy masterpiece based around a heavy bassline and jazzy drums. If I may quote myself: “think of Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, stoned out of his mind, driving along a desert road hallucinating, and you’ll begin to get an idea of the aura this song conjures.” It’s a stunning piece of music, one that simultaneously gives you a sense of both danger and calm. The central sample of the song, and arguably the most fundamental aspect of why it’s so incredible, is taken from a piece of music on this Flying Island album.
“And speaking about music, let’s dig another piece of your work, okay?”
Flying Island, Another Kind of Space. A name and an album title that does a good job in evoking the sort of music contained within. It seem we have another album of psychedelic music on our hands: not typical psychedelic, but featuring of course that sense of altered perception and a search for enlightenment that all good psychedelic music must contain. In essence Flying Island are a jazz-fusion band with a violin; not unlike Mahavishnu Orchestra, but a bit spacier. What I certainly took from listening to their record is how similar it is to the artists that made it big in the genre, like aforementioned Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and so on. But I’m not saying this in a disparaging way; merely I wonder what it was that enabled Return to Forever to embark on such a successful and famous career and what left poor Flying Island growing mould in someone’s old basement record collection. Does that highlight the cruelty of the business, or is that just life in general? That much is up to you I guess, but what I will say is don’t fall for the lazy way of thinking that because an artist has a record deal and sells they must be good, or vise versa. There’s plenty of great music out there folks, and much of it is buried under mounds of garbage: the key is to never stop looking. But I digress. Flying Island are fairly typical of the era; with some jazzy exercises, funkier pieces with electric keyboard, riff-driven instrumentals like Radiant Point with great interplay between the bass, violin and guitar. But being typical of an era or a sound again isn’t disparaging: it’s gloriously old school, with self-indulgent guitar solos, complex compositions and technical virtuosity, sometimes lacking in character but never lacking in drive. After a series of quirky, slightly off-kilter pieces like this, we arrive at the conclusion: a brilliant album ender: The Vision and the Voice. With its humble violin-led beginning, the guitar takes over with some soft jazzy runs: it continues in solitude for a few minutes before the crunching guitar riff comes in. When the violin appears again, the song seems to be stretching its emotional boundaries, pushing towards a coveted musical Elysium… and then… sound familiar? At 5:25, the riff is dropped for a solitary bar before the music retreats into a slow brooding keyboard based jam before a recapitulation of the riff takes the song to it’s enjoyable conclusion. But wait; what was that at 5:25 again? One bar, no guitar riffs. Just a bass and a drum. And from that 5 seconds, ladies and gentlemen, a new song was born, a song to outstrip the one from whence it came. Thanks to Flying Island, DJ Shadow was able to create What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 4), and thanks to DJ Shadow, I managed to hear of, locate and enjoy the wonderful music of Flying Island’s Another Kind of Space.
I don’t personally know how you feel about sampling in music. As I have repeatedly expressed on this blog, I feel it’s not merely ripping people off: I think it’s a truly ingenious way of creating and manipulating music, and of course to introduce people to a wide variety of music they may never otherwise have heard. Without DJ Shadow I suspect a substantially lesser number of people would have heard of Flying Island, and I don’t know if they’re grateful or not, but I thank DJ Shadow for it. Without him, Flying Island could just be another forgotten bunch of people, another band who ultimately were resigned to the ash heap of history. But Flying Island live on, their legacy has been set through Shadow’s music and now, I hope, will live on through their own. I think I’ve expressed myself enough, so I’ll leave you with a short clip of DJ Shadow talking about this: I think he says it a lot better than I do, and with any luck I hope he convinces you to go along with his way of thinking.
Words - Adam