Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company - "Like A Duck To Water" (Issued 1976 by EarthQuack Records USA, Re-issued 2001 by Cuneiform Records USA)
"Free Music Store" (Recorded 10/4/75 by WBAI 99.5 FM, Live at PEACE CHURCH, NYC, Issued 2001 on CD by some Philadelphia Bootlegger, Often seen on Bootleg Cassette Trader's lists

From Aural Innovations #18 (January 2002)

Once again, Steve Feigenbaum and my buddies at Cuneiform Records have unearthed another historic recording of the first Synthesizer ensemble in the world! MMPMC released this follow-up to their first LP in 1976; it was quite difficult back then to purchase the recording in Record shops! I recall having to go the New Music Distribution (then in the basement of Mike Mantler's house on West 95th street in Manhattan) and having to wait while Spencer Richards (where the hell is he these days?) searched through the completely disorganized stock trying to find it! Fortunately it was in there (One Copy in Stock!), and got played here at the Space Station quite frequently over the years.

On this second recording there were some changes. Linda Fischer had left the group and was replaced by former classical Pianist Judy Borsher. The group had done numerous live performances, in the process discovering the dynamics of working with Electronic Music instruments before an audience, and had some improvements added to their instruments (Various Moog Synthesizers) as well! Compositionally, the band was leaning more in the direction of polyphonic Cyclic Minimalism akin to that of Phillip Glass and Terry Riley, and the use of Electric Piano based ostinados was taking more of a forefront in their music! "C-A-G-E" is a nice example, described as a Western Mantra by composer David Borden. From silence, the listener is slipped effortlessly into a harmonic stream of major keys from the sequencer and E-piano, augmented by long lines flowing from the other synthesizers.

"Water Wheel" is almost a template for some of the musical techniques used by the "Berlin School" of Electronic Music (such as TD, Klaus Schulze, J.M. Jarre), but without the Teutonic-isms and Pink Floyd Rock & Roll moves involved with their sounds! "Oleo Strut" was a live set staple, weaved around a prepared tape, and a "cascading effect" found when the E-piano is dumped into an echo unit.

With the inclusion of the unreleased tunes, MMPMC would've been able to have issued this as a double LP. These tracks show the evolution and interest in the use of Synthesizers to stay within the "Classical Avant-Garde" of Electronic Music. None stray from poly-Cyclic compositional forms, but are beguiling and unusually soothing, especially live, the sound was pure but the audience had to restrain itself, and actually be quiet and listen to the music with total concentration!

A prime example of MMPMC live can be found on a Bootleg CD entitled "FREE MUSIC STORE", recorded 10/4/75 at the Peace Church in NYC, and broadcast live on WBAI-FM (a listener-supported Leftist Radio station, whose involvement in presenting Live music stretches back over 40 years. They have done live broadcasts of innovators from Lenny Bruce to Bob Dylan to Charles Mingus to Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, and are one of the few non-corporate-controlled Radio stations in the USA).

Most of the pieces played will be familiar with those that have heard either of their two CDs. Before a live audience, the music springs to life in quite an organic way, as these musicians display a complete grasp of the technology with which they are working. Having been able to be in the house, I recall the event being filmed, a completely packed house, and the intense heat generated by the film crew's lights seeming to have little affect on the performer's ability to deliver a superior performance! This certainly was a concert that should've been officially released, as it surely would've attracted a large part of the then growing listenership interested in Electronic Music.

Thankfully, the irritating bits of tuning up and station promotions were edited out, and although a stereo recording the sound on the CD is excellent (not particularly noisy) and the cover seems to be the still photo of Steve Drews and Moog Synthesizer that appeared on the cover of the second LP. It seems there are quite a few tapes of MMPMC (from different eras) floating around in the trader's community, and apparently the band still performs at Cornell University in Upstate NY.

This Big City resident marvels at this! Is there something in the water up there that allows for the kind of creativity that produced the Moog Synthesizer (Bob Moog's original workshop and studio was in the area) and MMPMC? Or is it just that the real musical innovations don't just occur in the places often rumored to be at the cusp of "Western Creativity"? A serious case could be made for the later argument if one makes the judgment based on the works of MMPMC, and the great influence Robert Moog's instrument has had on contemporary culture!

Note: I obtained "FREE MUSIC STORE" in a used CD shop (I cannot remember the name of the place) on South Street in Philadelphia. This retailer was well-stocked with lots of Bootlegs, but they were very pricey, although much cheaper than those available in the NYC area! Yeah, I bought Hendrix and King Crimson Boots too, but I'm saving them for another review!

Like A Duck To Water is distributed by Cuneiform Records. You can visit their web site at:
Contact via snail mail c/o Cuneiform Records; PO Box 8427; Silver Spring, MD 20907-8427.

Reviewed by Doug Walker

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