Vas Deferens Organization (Review/Interview)

by Jerry Kranitz

From Aural Innovations #4 (October 1998)

When I first heard the "Zyzzybaloubab" and "Saturation" albums by Vas Deferens Organization (VDO), I instantly fell in love with their electronic space freakiness and hard edged guitar driven psychedelia. But when a short time later I heard "Sweat Your Cheeses, But Not In My Salad" a collage of sound experimentations and playfulness that comes frighteningly close to the Residents, I had to stop and wonder.... who the hell are these guys?

VDO explores the cosmos, but is never afraid to stray into seemingly unrelated sonic realms. No one, or even two, recordings will convey the scope of this band's interests and experimentations. I'm not even sure the seven I've got paint enough of a picture. [There are over 25 VDO and related recordings. See partial discography at end.] Yes, VDO firmly belongs in a SpaceRock magazine. But the band crosses styles and shatters genres such that they defy easy description, and any comparisons can only serve as points of reference. One clue to the band's varied interests can be found in the liner notes to the Sweat Your Cheeses CD. Entitled "The Odd Recommendation", VDO lists a veritable Who's Who of space/Krautrock and Rock In Opposition influences. From Agitation Free to Tangerine Dream on the one hand, and Captain Beefheart to Univers Zero on the other, VDO's music is a trip worth the ticket price.

I immersed myself in seven VDO recordings and will share some impressions of each in an attempt to provide the interested reader with some guidance. They are:

"Sweat Your Cheeses, But Not In My Salad" (Charnel Music, 1996 CHCD-29 CD)
"Saturation" (Aether Records, 1996 AELP 001 LP)
"Zyzzybaloubab" (Aether Records, 1997 AELP 004/005 LP)
Tone Float - "Musik Von Tone Float" (Timothy's Brain, 1997 CD)
"A Sample Of Upcoming Releases From Timothy's Brain" (Timothy's Brain, 1997 CD)
"Drug Bubbles" (Eerie, 1998 CD)
"Queas And Art" (Timothy's Brain, 1998 SW03 CD)

The two Aether releases, Saturation and Zyzzybaloubab are notable for their release on vinyl. Remember the good 'ol days? These are great introductions to VDO for the space purist. Among the albums' highlights: From Zyzzybaloub, "Pongcraft" is an electronic space freakout with repeating synth lines and loops, and other assorted odd sounds. Guitar soon joins in and battles with the synths. Kind of reminded me of Mario Bros on acid. "Effortless Pilgrimage Against Ashes" is like a manic Hendrix acid jam, but ends with an almost symphonic progressive feel that combines mellotron sounds with a flamenco guitar. The description may sound weird but it works very well. My favorite from the two albums is "Futura Perspective". The tune starts as a synth tapestry that leads into a heavy bass driven jam. Despite the beeping synth lines it too has something of a prog rock feel, though in a more avant RIO way. The guitar gets quite manic la McLaughlin/Mahavishnu which adds a nice intensity to the music.

Saturation is a great album of lysergic guitar, tape loops, and general psych madness. "Transmissions From The Pineal Bandwidth" and "Beacon From A Nostalgic Future Past" are also great psych tunes. Transmissions features more Hendrix influenced guitar and I thought I heard actual Hendrix samples buried in all the loops, static, and feedback, Very freaky. Both songs feature Can/Ash Ra style electronics. The rest of the album features assorted opium den psychedelia and electronics that make this a great start to the VDO uninitiated. Oh yeah, and readers of this magazine will also like the track "Amon Doo & Popol Poo". You figure that one out.

The three Timothy's Brain releases feature more great space and electronics, but also start to stray into other genres. "A Sample Of Upcoming Releases From Timothy's Brain" has some serious psychedelic instrumentals. The first track (I don't see song titles) has shades of Nektar that evolves into a Santana-like Latin style. This tune focuses more on tasteful guitar soloing than most of the VDO tracks I've heard. The second track consists of Eastern influenced psychedelia with Indian horns and tablas. Track three features bubbling synths, eerie 60's sounding melody lines, and some rare vocals that sound like French that switches to German. Though this is a great psych tune it has it's zany moments, particularly at the end as the bass punks out to a classic high pitched 60's organ. The whole disc is a wonderful mix of serious psych that doesn't take itself too seriously.

"Drug Bubbles" is a three track upcoming release. In fact, the first track is from the Timothy's Brain sampler. Track two (the promo had no song titles) has a heavy King Crimson sound that develops into a wild Fred Frith sounding guitar assault with zany synths tripping around it. The music shifts gears abruptly and becomes a bit whacked out with ooh-wee-ooh synths and voices going on about a milkman. All the while a single bass line repeats while synth chaos occurs all around and ends on a very spacey note. The third track is much of the same. I really liked this disc for the creative use of sound and strange voicings. The music changes pace continually, yet VDO makes it all work.

The Musik Von Tone Float album is a collaboration between members of VDO, Ohm, and Mazinga Phaser. The best description I can muster up for this disc is like the Residents playing minimalist electronic Krautrock. Most of the tunes are primarily electronic driven, but the whole thing still has an exploratory feel. Lots of freaky space synths combine with good fun sounds and all around controlled chaos. My favorite track is "Vapourspace Lookinglass", a sonic journey that is simultaneously disturbing and meditative. Sort of like King Crimson meets Can.

Of the seven discs reviewed, "Sweat Your Cheeses, But Not In My Salad", and "Queas And Art" are most representative of VDO's more experimental side. From Sweat Your Cheeses, "Reverie" combines organ, trombone-sounding keys, and a pounding tribal percussion with lots electronic madness. This is actually a very all-around percussion heavy release. Lots of tribal drumming gives the music a wild world music feel. "The Matmos" is one of the few space moments on the disc, though there's still plenty of carnival sounds and general freakiness that make this is mix of VDO's varied personalities. Much of Sweat Your Cheeses is in the Residents mold, and a few parts even reminded me of some of the more avant Chris Cutler/Fred Frith recordings. However, this album is where I most have to emphasize that comparisons are merely reference points.

Queas And Art is a compilation of early tunes from VDO's first five cassette releases. Like Sweat Your Cheeses, the focus is on sound and percussion, but can be even more likened to the music of the Residents. Lots of crazed voicings reminded me of Eskimo and 3rd Reich 'n Roll. "Muz" is a playful percussion heavy tune with great rhythms that become very busy as the music develops. Soon joined by spacey synths we start to cross so many musical types that discussing this becomes an effort in confusion. What's important, though, is that it all flows very nicely. Another standout, "Apparition", is like a Bach something-or-other in Z Minor with freaky screams and perhaps some prepared instruments. Overall a good fun collection of the band's early works.

VDO has consisted of a varied lineup over the years, but the mainstay has been musician and producer Matt Castille. Matt was good enough to answer a few questions from this curious newcomer to VDO's music.

AI: If forced to categorize VDO, I would say you're a cross between SpaceRock/psych and the Residents. How would you describe the bands's goals, intentions, and interests. I'm interested in the tie between the space/psych side of VDO vs. the more experimental Residents-like side.

MC: Goals - Our goals are, to have the listener put on a piece from us, sit down, and sometime during the song look at the speakers and say, "what the fuck is this??!!? Next would be to always try not to do what has been done before!

Intentions - To make the listener have a very strange trip from song to song and not have to change the record to hear something different.

Interests: Collecting all LP's I can find that are weird, psych, prog, strange, hippy, etc... stuff that is left of center, anything from blues to soul as well.

When I listen to music I listen for a lot of different reasons. The main type of sound I like is that of which the song is always changing and morphing and frying. For example, a song can be going along very nicely... you know something like a Hawkwind space out or something like that... which is very ok with me for certain times, but I want more something else maybe disruptive or ethnic --- or it may be psych like Hawkwind and all of a sudden it morphs into the sound of bombs being dropped out of a plane backed by an analog keyboard making the same sound so you can't tell if it's a bomb or what? Then it goes back into the same song but now instead of playing major notes they are playing minor notes. So you see its all "acid sounds" to me as long as the band does it with a lot of thought and the production is clever. These are the top 11 examples of what I am talking about. You may already have them, if not, find them, drop, and cry!!!

1. Amon Duul - "Dance Of The Lemmings (especially side 3 "Restless Skylight Transistor Child" -- German)
2. Franco Battiato - "Pollution" (This is fuckin' theee shit!!!!! Probably my fav of all time -- Italian)
3. Pierrot Lunaire - "Gudrum" -- Italian)
4. Algarnas Tradgard (Swedish)
5. Second Hand - "Death May Be Your Santa Clause" (Dutch)
6. Kraftwerk 0 "1"1970 (German)
7. Hosono And Yokoo - "Cochin Moon" (This is the shit too -- Jap)
8. Et Cetera - "Lady Blue" (German)
9. Friendsound - "Joyride" (U.S.)
10. Lard Free - "3" (French)
11. Heldon - "6"Interface" (French)

I think my fav music is first French, then German, then Italian

AI: We could talk for days about "The Odd Recommendation" list of bands in the Sweat Your Cheeses liner notes. Is there something from all these bands to be found in VDO's music? I focus on this list because of the variety found across your recordings.

MC: Yes, this was intended to give the listener some reference to our sound which is usually a hybrid of one or all of the list.

AI: On all your recordings there seems to be a focus on, and attention to percussion, even on the most chaotic music.

MC: Rhythm drives the world.

AI: VDO is obviously prolific in its output. The seven recordings I have are all since '96. And they are all across a number of record labels. Is this simply the indie way of getting the music out, lots of contacts, or... what?

MC: Well if you listen from CD to CD, they are for the most part different from each other. Some are psych, some are experimental. It just depends on the label. We found a label that we will be working with very closely for a while called Timothy's Brain. It is owned by Avant Garde Distribution.

AI: Optional extra credit question: Tell me as much of the VDO story as you'd like my readers to know.

MC: We enjoy taking LSD and listening to music that will make you fall down if you are standing up. We do not take drugs when we record!!! Only to playback. We have a much larger fan base in Europe than in the U.S. We have found that once music gets too "psych... or strange" the consensus reality shuts it out, never to be heard by the masses!!! This happens all the time in the U.S. thanks to the mass media. Also we have not been able to work with other bands very well because their idea of psych is the "flavor of the day indie music" or Pink Floyd is as far as they go. "No man that's too weird!".

AI: Discography?

MC: Our discography is very extensive for the 6 years or so we have been together with many different members and sounds. I will try to give it to you: In no particular order.

1.For Cryin' Out Loud (LP)
2. Late Night Songs For Truckers and Fuckers (LP & CD)

1. Jaloppy/Vas Deferens Organization (LP)
2. Owners Manual (LP)

1. As My Mind Drifts Off (CD)

1. Cruising In The Neon Glory Of The New American Night (LP & CD)

1. O2

1. Tape 1
2. Ooze
3. Tape 3
4. Flesh & Blood
5. Tape 5
1. Transcontinental Conspiracy With Brad Laner And Members Of Mercury Rev
2. Sweat Your Cheeses, But Not In My Salad
3. Greatestits
4. Quease And Art
5. Drug Bubbles
6. Tilt
7. Vas Deferens Organization And Parahilean
8. Idiot Parade
1. Saturation
2. Zyzzybaloubab

1. Muz (solo by Matt Castille)

1. Miasmata (LP)
2. Vas Deferens Organization And Christopher Suspention

That's 25 releases. I may have left some out. Also that does not include all of my production work.

For more information you visit Vas Deferens Organization at their web site.
More sound files are available at the web site.

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