A few months ago, we invited Gerry Love to talk about his work with Teenage Fanclub and then to write about his favourite under-rated album. Gerry chose Chris Cohen’s marvellous Overgrown Path.
Now Chris has chosen a favourite album of his own and on the eve of a short European tour, has written exclusively about it here for TNPC.
In 2011 I visited musician and OSR label founder Zach Phillips in Brattleboro VT – he had a box of Run the Gauntlet cassettes and gave me one. I listened in my car a lot; at first I just liked the novelty of it but then it became kind of an obsession. After a listen or two I could hear there were definite aesthetic rules to it but could not quite tell what they were. I would also get certain lines stuck in my head, like “this time, I’m holding out for you, oh tell me that you’re holding out too/so no matter what you say, no matter what you do just remember, I’m holding out for you” or the refrain: “whose music, your music, my music…” Hartley C. White has an incredible story – the quick version is that he “came from Kingston, Jamaica to Queens in the 1980s. A student of martial arts since 1966, Hartley is the progenitor of a style he calls Who-pa-zoo-tic Music, ‘a non-classical music’ based on the ‘broken rhythm’ of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do.”1 I highly recommend this 2011 interview. [http://osr-tapes.tumblr.com/post/83828921021/interview-with-hartley-c-white-by-zp-2011]
Hartley is a keen observer of the ways of world and has led an incredible life. To me, Run the Gauntlet is a revolution in music. It does so many of the things that music can do: it talks to you, puts you under its spell, skillfully manipulates tension and release – but does so using none any of the traditional means. It doesn’t stay in any meter for more than a moment, makes no reference to traditional harmonic movement (though it makes some incredible harmonic moves). It has a very loose though distinct sense of melody, and truly relates to no other musical genre than its own. It never plays on anything recognizable from the world outside, though Hartley has a vast knowledge of popular music and is by no means an outsider from the world of music (his father was president of the Jamaican Musicians’ Union in the late 60’s/early 70’s). He’s a fan of everything from 10cc to Captain Beefheart, the Meters, Manhattan Transfer, Weather Report to Neil Young – but he decided to make a totally new kind of music and release it on his own Who-pa-zoo-tic Music label in 1991.
After listening to Run The Gauntlet many many times over the years, I still find new ways of understanding it but feel that I never truly will. That is the key to its success – the more you engage, the more it shows you, but there is always something beyond. Also it is pretty near impossible to listen to as background music, something I take as a hallmark of its greatness.
Made of repetitions of irregular-sized rhythmic cells, its syntax feels asymmetrical but always right. If I understand correctly, Hartley’s music literally follows rhythmic patterns he’s learned from martial arts. Like Jeet Kune Do and Capoeira, Hartley’s Who-pa-zoo-tics is based on the idea of studying another person’s timing and then “breaking” that timing by striking during the gaps in its phrases. On this subject Hartley told me in an email that “Who-Pa-Zoo-Tic Music is less about fitting the parts together and more about playing the spaces between each note.”
Rhythm is only one of many aspects of this music that are unique – Hartley’s sense of orchestration and his concept of multitrack recording on Run the Gauntlet are like nothing that came before. Either working in unison or responding to his voice, the instruments rarely play through an entire song or even section or line. Digital synth bass, cuica, wood block, snare drum, chimes, tympani, and electric guitar come and go over the course of each song, just accenting the voice which is Run The Gauntlet’s only continuous element. (Hartley played every instrument himself). His voice appears and re-appears in many different characters – sometimes whispering, sometimes singing falsetto, just talking or harmonizing. Horizontal rather than vertical, the arrangements combine unlikely elements in a completely original way that never feels patchy or random.
The songs are melodic in their own way and very catchy at times – Hartley’s sense of pitch is continuous, a kind of intonation that is not talking, not rapping, not any other kind of singing but just purely his own. Run The Gauntlet discusses politics, faith, love, culture, consciousness, creativity, and emotion. In Hartley’s words: “I believe ‘Life’ is not always supposed to be happy. I also believe that it’s by overcoming the obstacles that we build character and better learn to relate to each other, as none of us are perfect and we all make mistakes. I also believe, as musicians, artists, that one our jobs is not only to record and witness the history around us but also to carry our own dreams as well as those of others, especially in times of uncertainty, and when necessary remind ourselves and others of the best that we can be.”
Hartley makes me feel that music and life itself are inexhaustible. Run the Gauntlet is only his first record- Coming Out Fighting continues in a similar but even more intense vein, then each of the next 5+ records are all different and equally worth investigating. His last, Something Better (OSR 2016), is maybe his darkest and most apocalyptic. In the history of recorded music – I think Run the Gauntlet stands alone – complete, coherent, always rich with inspiration and always new. I hope that music lovers and musicians of the future know about it… (Chris Cohen)
1 http://osr-tapes.com/hartleycwhite.html, accessed 4/23