Hy Maya – ‘The Mysticism of Sound And Cosmic Language’ reviewed

Never-before-released recordings from the ‘Brotherhood Of The Unknown’ that prefigured Pere Ubu.

Back in 1996, when Pere Ubu issued a box set of the works from 1975-982, they included an extra disk entitled Terminal Drive, a wonderful idea which ought to be more common in such retrospectives, a collection of friends, peers & colleagues’ work, to enable a context to how Ubu actually came about. An index of possibilities & future flowerings, it was the first time most listeners outside the circle could hear such legendary names as Electric Eels, Tripod Jimmie or Mirrors.  Before then, such bands were simply wills-o’-the-wisp, breathlessly glimpsed in such definitive tomes as Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming or Clinton Heylin’s From The Velvets To The Voidoids.  Since then, many of them have had archaeological reissues, as interest in the Cleveland scene of the early-mid 70s grew; but one name remained obstinately beyond ken – Hy Maya.

Hy Maya at East 23rd Street 1972. L to R: Albert Dennis, Bob Friedhofer, Scott Krauss, and Robert Bensick. Photo by Cynthia Black, courtesy of Robert Bensick.

Charlotte Pressler’s memoir Those Were Different Times is essential reading to understand how febrile the CLE music scene was pre-1975, as convoluted and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it as, say, post-punk Liverpool or Manchester to come. Where the New York scene has become almost the orthodox view of US new music in the seventies, other areas have suffered from overlook, and the Cleveland-Akron axis perhaps most of all.  Many thanks, then, to Smog Veil Records’ tireless excavation, resulting in their Platters Du Cuyahoga series of deep-deep-cut collections, of which this Hy Maya release is the latest and most delightfully unexpected.  Honestly, it’s like Godot turning up.

So… The key question. After all this time and expectation, what do Hy Maya actually sound like?  Do I dare?

Straight off, it’s crucial to remember that this music was made for nothing other than the moment and the exploration, with no thoughts of posterity.  Furthermore, many of its participants are actually learning their instruments as they go. What we have here are the results of a couple of jam sessions performed in public as if communion, a window into a “different time” of charming fearlessness. “Recommended to fans of Wendy Carlos, Miles Davis, The Moody Blues, Oregon, Sun Ra, Tangerine Dream, and Throbbing Gristle” says the SV press release, and that’s pretty on-the-nose, but I’d add some further likenesses to it.  (And am not sure at all about The Moody Blues, but by the bye.)

Firstly, re: TG, David Thomas once said, when asked his opinion of them, “Always preferred Hawkwind.  It’s a Cleveland thing,” and Hy Maya definitely have, at their lungiest, that slow-strobe wokka-wokka thing going on.  Secondly, all the CLE bands were VU-aware and used to hearing bootlegged VU gigs; some took Foggy Notion as their impetus, others Sister Ray, and Hy Maya are definitely in the latter camp (though the penultimate workout here, Quantum Relativity Is Relative, is a pretty nifty conflation of the two, with a sprinkling of What Goes On, and sounds like it was an absolute blast to perform).

There’s a certain patchouli whiff at times, not least in the song-titles which even Wayne Coyne might baulk at, and especially so when ringmaster Robert Bensick makes a rare vocal intervention, but that’s to be expected, given its location in 1972/73 (furthermore, Ubu’s Allen Ravenstine, whose first recorded noises are herein, said that he learned how to play his EML synth by the simple matter of doing stoned 8-hour shifts on the thing over a period of months, and from those meanders ultimately came the wild third-eye vistas which made Ubu such a force). But the foremost impression is of a bleary musique concrete rather than mere hippy noodling.  Given the extemperaneous nature of the music, what’s striking is how restrained and poised it often is, long, tense soundhouse passages giving real contrast to those moments where they let rip (the langorous journeys of Dance Of Illusion (Camel Song) or Left Brain Reflexions (Quantum Entanglement) of note here).

In amongst the fierier pieces are more delicate snatches of unexpected harmony (the quite beautiful Consumption Of The Core Cell, for instance, sounds like Gil Melle’s Andromeda Strain soundtrack before slowly gliding into a piano-and-birdsong reverie, whereas Albert’s Lullaby is a straight-out nursery rhyme, quite a jolt in the proceedings), and taken as a whole, these recordings – never meant to be definitive, remember – form a pleasing drift-suite, and a significant CLE Rosetta Stone.  Going on simultaneously were the Stoogier inclinations of Rocket From The Tombs, who would dissolve into Ubu with the lessons learned and the potentiality of Hy Maya mixed in.  Hy Maya themselves would splinter into further below-the-level musics, these also now recovered by Smog Veil.

Come 1975, “all the bands were breaking up” to quote both Pressler and Thomas, and the works of such as Hy Maya were mere legend and footnote.  Thomas formed Pere Ubu as a one-off, a requiem, the intention being to do one solitary 45, which would then languish in the used bins, amongst what he called the “Brotherhood Of The Unknown”, a Boot Hill for all that reaching out and pushing the envelope.  It didn’t quite pan out that way, and gave rise to some astonishing music in the forty-odd years interim.  This reissue is a remarkable camera-obscura insight into the bedding grounds of that music, fully deserving of its unearthing and authoritative beyond its simple historical import.

 ‘The Mysticism of Sound And Cosmic Language’ was released by Smog Veil on 24 November 2017 as part of Smog Veil’s Platters du Cuyahoga series, and is available on vinyl double LP, CD, or as a digital download.  The label is distributed through AEC/Amped.

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