filling in the pauses: the aural gaze

Creating a new genre of music. Improvisation, “making shit up” when you articulate the pauses and these gaps, these silent but charged spaces become the content and assume the central position in the compositional structure…..

Art Chantry ( :

No less an expert than the late Lux Interior HISSELF (r.i.p. cramps) often said in interviews that this is is most favorite record of all time. you gotta have respect for the dead – they got good taste.

Ken Nordine was a professional voice a”artist” and radio disk jockey working the late-night cocktail jazz circuit on the radio dial. His beautiful melodious tuned vocal chords.I imagine him with a pipe in his mouth and an ascot around his neck relaxing in his satin brocade smoking jacket with a babe on one arm and a martinti on the other – smirking at the camera. That what he sounds like – a hip fast talking clever smart aleck with a razor wit and a lazer delivery. I imagine he would be murder in an argument. He’d cut you to ribbons with his words before you knew what happened. And then you’d thank him for the pleasure of listening to his voice.

What Nordine tried to do with this record was create a new genre of music. He had so much experience late at night on radio stations just filling gaps between records with his lovely droning gentle voice that he became a rather accomplished improvisor. He would just start to ‘make shit up” to fill those moments he was changing records. After a while, he got such great feedback with his efforts that he began to stretch those moments out and do actual improvised ‘narrations’ – basically make-up stories as he rattled along. He got so good at it that he felt he was onto something new and different and rather cool, too.

Art Chantry: ken nordine continued to make more records as time went on. i especially recommend his continuation of word jazz - the masterly "son of word jazz". his sales never really did well in the white mainstream world - he was too different, i guess. those were duller times for us white folks. he pops up on a lot of other records as a narrator and such, still doing what he did so well. he stayed busy. i think he became sort of a dream collaborator for recording studio hacks. don't know how to flesh-out a uninspiring record? call ken nordine and prop him in front of the mike and let him go. it'll make you 'listen to the sounds of outer space' record really sizzle.

Sure, lots of comics and performers had used improvised spoken vocals before him. the black underground circuit already had proto-rappers delivering improvisational stand-up dialogs for a very long time by that point. Finding it’s birth in the storyteller’s tradition and the scat of Louie Armstrong and growing through such great scat singers as the magnificent Ella Fitzgerald, the improvised vocal narration eventually left nonsense syllables behind and began the greater challenge of actually telling stories. Performers like Lord Buckley and Lenny Bruce moved this art form into the hipster beat white audiences. Ken Nordine attempted to take this art form and kick it (sort of) into the white mainstream with this record.

What Nordine does on this album is simply sit at a microphone and listen to the erstwhile’s Fred Katz and his band’s dented and often goofy music as he just TALKS. He tells a story he makes-up as he sits there. He improvises in his smooth melodious voice, talking with a certain pacing and varied sense of dynamics born of professional advertising DJ deliveries. When he sits down he has no real solid idea what he was going to say, but simply let the mood of the music fill him and bang – off he goes. It’s really a magnificent achievement and very very cool – in a white guy beat hipsters jazzy cool dude sort of way.

Art Chantry: paul rand looks like this cover. st. paul was only one of dozens (maybe hundreds) of folks working in this style. the more you look at the contemporary period of paul rand, the more you see how copycatty and unoriginal he was. his big smart move was to suck up tot he highest levels of corporate america and sell it direct for the big bucks. that's all he innovated - the sell-out. he was a world class hustler. click on image....

The first time you listen to this, your reaction is, “what the hell…?” these stories seldom go anywhere. They don’t have structure like normal stories. Often they don’t have real endings. They are just beautiful words arranged in a talented quick mind and spoken thro

a gifted voice. It is totally cool. And bizarre. It makes me want to pull out my bongo drums and dust them off.

Sadly, Nordine’s experiments and his masterly style never really caught on. It’s a shame. Repeated listenings reveal more and more delight with his delivery and free flowing thought associations. The dynamics of his wordplay and the mood setting execution just gets better and more entertaining with each spin. His talent is unique.

I highly encourage every hip hop fan out there, every spoken word ‘poet’, every performer who has to stand alone in front of a group and keep them occupied – to listen to Ken Nordine’s novel artform. It’s really really brilliant.

I wish I knew more about this cover (like, who did it?) any answers out there?


Art Chantry: one of the things i really love about this cover are the “quote marks”. they’re really a smart typographic design device….the type coming out of the mouth leading into the lower quote mark create a really great ‘word balloon’ device, too. all around good work….

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Miscellaneous, Modern Arts/Craft, Music/Composition/Performance and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>