January 25, 2008

Australia Day Special: Jack Ellitt

Ellitt.jpgTomorrow is the start of our annual Long Weekend of Rampant National Chauvinism, so I thought I’d get into the spirit of the occasion by celebrating one of this country’s forgotten musical pioneers.

Born in 1906, Jack Ellitt showed promise as a musician early, winning a scholarship to the NSW Conservatorium of Music at the age of 16. In his early twenties, though, he was drawn away from the academy and into the dive bars of The Rocks where bohemian artists engaged in long, animated discussions about the new modernism. In this environment, he met the awkward but intense New Zealand artist, Len Lye, who became a life-long collaborator.

In the late 1920’s, Ellitt and Lye moved to England and fell in with the surrealists and abstract modernists of the Seven and Five Society. Lye began making experimental films by painting and scratching patterns directly on to film stock, and Ellitt began toying with ways of incorporating abstract sounds into film soundtracks. Sometime in the 1930’s, it lead him to work on soundtracks composed entirely of manipulated pieces of recorded sound… and to conceive of a time when they could be produced by anyone.

In 1935, he wrote: “When good recording apparatus is easily acquired, many people will record everyday sounds which give them pleasure. The next step would be to mould these sound-snaps into formal continuity.”

At the time, the first tape recorders had only just been invented; their use in the musique concrete of pioneer Pierre Schaeffer was a full decade and a half off; and the idea of sampling and sequencing as a commonplace of music-making was something that would take half a century to be fully realised…

Despite his incredible prescience, Ellitt never pursued any claims to be a groundbreaker and toiled away in obscurity; avoiding even the admiring approaches of other musical innovators like Stockhausen. He died in 2001, and sadly, most of his recordings were destroyed after his death.

The piece below, which is taken from the 2007 compilation Artefacts of Australian Experimental Music, was pressed in 1954, but it is believed that it was first recorded in the 1930’s. If this is indeed the case, then it is the earliest piece of musique concrete and marks Ellitt out as one of the most significant sound artists of the 20th Century… And he’s Australian, so Ellitt! Ellitt! Ellitt! Oi! Oi! Oi!

Jack Ellitt - Journey #1

The album that Jack's track comes from can be purchased here.

Posted by Warren at January 25, 2008 10:31 PM | Experimental