[Review] Robert Wyatt: The End of an Ear (1970)

You probably won’t lose your hearing, although brain damage is a risk on Wyatt’s first.

Kronomyth 1.0: Ears to Robert for making everything wonderfuller.

In the glorious machine-powered future, we can look forward to AI-created music conceived “in the style of Robert Wyatt” and nod approvingly as a jumble of drums, horns and piano come tumbling from our computer speakers. In the drug-fueled past, of course, we had to make due with the electrical connections contained in our own craniums. Metal or soft machine is splitting hairs, you may say, and I (with none of my own to split) might argue otherwise, but we are the true author of neither. Music like this exists because it must, because the rules of chaos dictate that even clouds will occasionally take the perfect form of a cat, and that even whacked-out moles like Robert Wyatt will discover genius in chaos (or that chaos will discover the genius in Robert Wyatt).

The End of an Ear begins and ends with Wyatt’s bizarre interpretation of Gil Evans’ Las Vegas Tango. Wyatt largely replaces the horns with gibberish, creating a strange tapestry of sound that comes surprisingly close to the original while at the same time seeming nothing like it. The remaining “songs” feature the same instrumentation—drums, horns, keyboards, bass, voice—that take Wyatt’s dadaism to new heights (depths?). Frank Zappa made music like this, only he made it on purpose. Wyatt is less rigid, though perhaps no less intentional.

Sometimes, The End of an Ear sounds like music. To Saintly Bridget is alien space jazz. To Carla Marsha and Caroline is simultaneously melodic and oddly disquieting. To Caravan and Brother Jim starts out relatively normal before becoming enveloped in cryptic cacophony. I’m not sure what Columbia thought they had signed on for with this album, but that they didn’t sign up for a sequel probably says a lot. Wyatt’s first solo album has all the earmarks of a contract breaker. More likely, he was letting off steam as Soft Machine devolved into a “normal” jazz fusion band (the quotes implying normal relative to the strange world of Soft Machine).

If you’re into Zappa’s stranger experiments or just enjoy listening to a Dadaist drummer thumb his nose at the world for forty minutes, The End of an Ear could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. It’s not for everyone, and possibly not for anyone (despite its dedications), but in a world where art can now be condensed into a set of algorithms, it’s refreshing to hear someone making music while breaking so many rules.

Original elpee version

A1. Las Vegas Tango, Part 1 (Repeat) (Gil Evans) (8:13)
A2. To Mark Everywhere (2:26)
A3. To Saintly Bridget (2:22)
A4. To Oz Alien Daevyd and Gilly (2:09)
A5. To Nick Everyone (9:15)
B1. To Caravan and Brother Jim (5:22)
B2. To the Old World (Thank you for the use of your body, goodbye) (3:18)
B3. To Carla Marsha and Caroline (for making everything beautifuller) (2:47)
B4. Las Vegas Tango – Part 1 (Gil Evans) (11:07)

All songs written by Robert Wyatt unless noted.

The Players

Robert Wyatt (drums, mouth, piano, organ), Cyril Ayers (assorted percussion), Mark Charig (cornet), Elton Dean (alto saxello), Mark Ellidge (piano), David Sinclair (organ), Neville Whitehead (bass). Produced by Robert Wyatt; engineered by Vic Gamm.

The Pictures

Cover design by Lipscombe Lubbock Ewart and Hollands.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on December 4, 1970 in the UK (CBS, S 64189).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1977 in the UK (CBS, S CBS 31846).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in Europe (Columbia, 493342-2).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in Europe (Columbia, COL 473005-2).
  4. Re-released on Blue-Spec CD 2 on July 24, 2013 in Japan (CBS, SICP 30323).

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