Craig Leon: Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol.1

An updated, exquisite, extraordinary, genuine electronic classic.

Craig Leon

Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1

Label: Rvng Int'l
Label website

Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music is Craig Leon’s reworking and re-recording of his two astonishing records, Nommos and Visiting. Nommos consists of instrumental pieces by Leon and Cassell Webb. These were created as a simplistic form of music based on ostinato (repetition) simple drum rhythms, and simple melodic systems as found in examples of the earliest known music on Earth. Leon linked this to a theoretical speculation of the kind of music might which may have been listened to by the Nommos, the legendary or mythical “aliens” on the long spaceflight to bring to the Dogon tribe, of Mali, hope for the future and explanation of the past. It is an absolute gem, a classic recording in a genre of one. Originally issued more than 30 years ago on John Fahey’s Takoma label, it more or less immediately disappeared as if lovingly consigned to a tomb constructed to house only itself, before it was joined by the equally superb "Visiting".

Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1 is not a simple reissue. The Nommos master tapes were lost and Leon has re-recorded the album, guided by precise audio signals mapped out in the original studio notes. Visiting has been remastered and both albums have been subject to “subtle edits and compositional additions". The result is equivalent to unearthing a splendid jewel from beneath the monotonous morass of sonically compressed and conceptually derivative modern culture: something new and marvelous under the sun.

Craig Leon worked as an A&R/staff producer for Sire Records in the 1970s. He brought Talking Heads to the attention of the label and helped with their earliest demo recordings. His involvement with the development of the Ramones, Suicide and Blondie, was much more hands on, helping these groups produce the distinctive initial sound they wanted. In the ensuing decades Leon has continued to add to an impressive list of production credits. He was, though, trained in classical music and wrote music at a very young age, and was always doing his own music throughout his pop production career, even if he didn’t necessarily release it.

Anthology has sombre, stately, even mystical aspects which reflect Leon’s classical music training but also playful and fleetfooted rhythms which almost predict the electro and house music genres. It is beautifully understated yet bracing music, with an urgent compositional prowess trumping any trace of dreaminess or sentimentalism and a series of individual pieces which are all striking and memorable. All of which befits the theme of a strange and inspiring encounter with a higher power. The concept underpinning this work is not academic, ethno-forgery, cultural borrowing, ethnic or “world” music but a singular theoretical vision that I suspect will only become more intriguing with the passage of time.

Each track on this collection is striking and memorable. The ones I mention here are not necessarily my favorites. “Donkeys Under Cups”sounds like a raw tribal siren, with simmering wobby undertones suggestive of hedonistic bliss. As it seem to be ending it evolves suddenly into a splendid morass of discernable loops and spasms and then fades into the sombre start of title piece “Nommo” as smoothly as a champion 100 meter relay runner, gliding above a surface beneath which bubbles the rhythmic square root of The Human League’s “Being Boiled.”

“Four Eyes to See the Afterlife” is of a more epic processional length and otherworldly vibrating beat with a section sounding much like an ethereal female serenading a small creature which is playing in a tumble-drier while encased in a Slinky. “One Hundred Steps” begins as a lush piece of layered synth waves, quickly gaining adroit percussive elements, hastening the sublime flow, before the piece snaps into “Region of Fleeing Civilians”, a fantastic, fresh, blipping, snipping, track better than anything which could have resulted if someone had put Neu and funky-era New Order in the studio together.

“Three Small Coins” is like a failing robot jukebox being submerged beneath a tide of radio waves and “Visiting” has a slow, mesmerizing beats and glorious guitar-like chimes which merge the hypnotic with the ecstatic -- at which point I fear we may have reached the foggy cul de sac just south of the crossroads of Subjective and Descriptive.

The music on Nommos reflects the fact that the Nommos themselves were able to live underwater, whereas Visiting sounds more terrestrial. Leon's approach, inspired by his viewing of an exhibition of Dogon sculpture, is appropriately sincere -- given that astronomers have since discovered the ancient Dogon calculations to be accurate in locating the presence of stars which until recently were invisible to the naked eye -- without being in the slightest bit dull.

Craig Leon has long lived in England. His earlier pop productions were far better received in Europe, he found more work there as a producer, and his “classical” and modern music also got more of a response in Europe than the U.S. He was kind enough to also relate to me an old music business tale: In the 1950s, there was a label called Roulette Records that was run by dubious character named Morris Levy. The label had many early rock 'n' roll and 1960s pop hits. The legend goes that one day Mr. Levy was approached by one of his artists who had just had a big hit on the label. The artist was trying to find out when he’d get his royalties from the sales of the hit. Levy replied ” Kid, you want royalties, move to England.” A lesser quality version of Nommos was issued a while back, by a well-meaning website, but without Craig Leon’s permission. Leon has stated that he always intended to update the work and, with this timely release, he has reclaimed his creation. Comparisons are odious, but this exquisite release belongs in the same exalted realm as Laurie Spiegel’s The Expanding Universe.

Leon and Webb used Roland JP-4 polyphonic/compuphonic, Oberheim OB-X analog polyphonic, and Arp 2600 semi-modular monophonic synthesizers, and a raw LM-1 prototype drum machine. I believe we also hear Webb’s voice on one piece.

Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1 is a 2xLP package, complete with detailed artwork and two essays from Leon: one on the complete history of the Dogon stargazers and another on the whole evolution of this fantastic musical milestone.







Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.


Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.


Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".


Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.


Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.