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coverpic flag Belgium - Full Moon 236 - 11/25/15

Kosmose
Kosmic Music From The Black Country
Sub Rosa

Kosmose was a band project with roots back to 1969 and an orchestra called SIC. The idea behind the band and the name Kosmose probably appeared in 1973 and the gang with a fluctuating line-ups kept going until 1978. The members came from the Charleroi area of Belgium, named the Black Country because it was the centre of the Belgian heavy industry, based on coal, from the industrial revolution onwards. 'The collapse of the industry has left the population deeply worried, with no solution in sight to this day', the booklet of this historic compilation informs us. The band rehearsed on Sundays and performed a handful of gigs, all of them in the Charleroi area. The music was completely improvised. Nothing was discussed before they started to play, but it was inspired by German Kosmische Musik of the era (as both the band name and album title suggest) and to some extent free and noisy jazz. Though I don't think any of the involved were jazz musicians. Free improvised noisy music might be closer to the agenda. No one else was into this kind of excesses in the Charleroi area at the time. Francis Pourcel (bass and guitar), Alain Neffe (keyboards, flute, loops, percussion, voice and a bit of wind instruments) were the core members of the band and Guy Marc Hinant (drums and percussion) seems to have been quite steady, too. He contributes on all but one track here. Other participants on the album are guitarists Paul Kutzner (on four tracks) and Daniel Malempré (on one). Alain recorded most of the rehearsals and concerts on open reel to reel tapes from two microphones in the room. Some of these tapes have been cleaned, repaired and mastered by Alain for this release. The decision to release an album by Kosmose was taken by Alain and Guy Marc after Paul Kutzner died. It had really been a shock.

The compilation Insane Music For Insane People Vol. 26 released one and a half years ago included the first ever recording released by Kosmose, simply called "The First Untitled Track", a 22,5 minutes long instrumental jam. Here follows eleven more on a great packaged double CD, varying from a little more than four to 28 minutes long. There's also a great packaged double LP, but it only holds eight tracks. The music is inspired by what some of the Kraut rock bands across the border in Germany were into at the time, for instance Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Temple. Here are pleasant moody outer-atmospheric passages mainly due to Alain's synths, pulsating bass and occasionally floating and gliding guitar. "The Second" and "The Third Untitled Track" are the prime examples in this direction. Especially the former seems similar to Pink Floyd's instrumental excursions in the early days, after Syd Barrett had left the band, with long echoed guitar notes, soft and nice. The beginning with swirling keyboards and glissando guitar reminds a lot of Gong at their most floating, too, a band that has visited Bataclan, in Paris, France more than once btw. Well, Daevid Allen of Gong learned to play glissando from Syd of Floyd and lots the Kraut bands were inspired by Floyd of the late 1960s and early 1970s, too.

After these first two relatively soft tracks we move into harsher landscapes where the Kosmose gang seems more inspired by the surroundings in their local community than outer space. "The Fourth Untitled Track" really documents the subtitle of the album: 'Black Country & Cosmic Noise'. It's the noisiest of the lot, free-form, wild and without any compromises. The remaining tracks, all of them untitled but numbered, are mainly longer, wander somewhere between these extremes and bring in other elements as well. "The Ninetieth" (surely some inside joke?) has bits with tribal rainforest feel due to the rhythms, flute and noises and the rhythms also secure repetitive trance flavours. The somewhat restrained "Fifth" has a passage with radio talk in the background towards the end, the kind of soundscape that was modern in underground/experimental circuits about ten years later. The start of "The Sixth" has a quite long passage with cosmic synthesizer before the drums join and we're in for something close to a rock'n'roll band with full overdrive, not quite unlike Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray". A short segment halfway through with Jethro Tull-alike flute seems out of place in this otherwise punky environment. But then, 8:40 minutes into the track, a synth sounding very much like Joy Division four or five years later pops up for half a minute before the rock'n'roll mayhem continues. Apart from the drums and cymbals, "The Eleventh" starts rather softly and moody with something sounding like a slow cello. In fact it's Francis playing his bass guitar with a bow. The mood is then ripped up by a free & wild clarinet that awakes the aggressive rock band that keeps going until things eventually calm down at the very end.

We could go on. Here's something close to a very energetic and aggressive drum solo, something close to a heavy metal guitar solo, echoed squeaky synth sounding like a tormented animal or bird, echoed flute salads... Every track have their characteristics. Most of the time the musicians succeed. A few times they lose momentum and the improvisations fizzles out into nothingness. Sometimes I could've wished they had stopped and started anew to develop an idea or passage further or overdubbed some segments. On the other hand, that would of course have spoilt the spontaneity that pervades all the recordings here. One thing is sure, the majority of tracks are too noisy or disturbed to be pure cosmic in the German sense.

Kosmose came to an end in 1978. Two years earlier, Francis and Alain had established a second, by now punk, line-up of SIC that existed in parallel with Kosmose. Francis put together a third one, dealing with new wave, in 1979. Meanwhile Alain and Guy Marc Hinant teamed up with Xavier S in Pseudo Code. Guy Marc later established Sub Rosa, the Belgian underground label behind the Kosmose album and lots more. Alain's whereabouts thereafter can be read in more detail in our interview with him from some years back. These days Alain and Daniel Malempré are busy with a guitar duo project where Daniel plays the melodic guitar and Alain the noisy one. So there we are, the activities of youth might be defining for the best parts of your life. There are lots of Kosmose recordings left in the archives, some with Turkish musicians. If the debut album, so to speak, is a success, we might be in for more historical recording by Kosmose in the future.

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