Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Blue Sky, Highway and Thyme (Back Porch Hillbilly Blues, Volume 1)

Henry Flynt was born in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1940. He is both an exhibited artist and an anti-art activist as well as a philosopher-musician.  His work is often associated with conceptual art, nihilism, and Fluxus. 

Flynt’s work devolves from what he calls cognitive nihilism, a concept he developed and first announced in the 1960 and 1961 drafts of a paper called Philosophy Proper. The 1961 draft was published in Milan with other early work in his book Blueprint for a Higher Civilization.  Flynt refined these dispensations in the essay Is There Language? that was published as Primary Study in 1964.

In 1961, Flynt coined the term "concept art" in the neo-dada, proto-Fluxus book An Anthology of Chance Operations (co-published with La Monte Young). Concept art, Flynt maintained, devolved from cognitive nihilism, from insights about the vulnerabilities of logic and mathematics. Drawing on an exclusively syntactical paradigm of logic and mathematics, concept art was meant to supersede both mathematics and the formalistic music then current in serious art music circles. Therefore, Flynt held, to merit the label "concept art," a work had to be an object-critique of logic or mathematics or objective structure.

Because of his friendship and collaboration with La Monte Young, Flynt sometimes gets linked to Fluxus. While Flynt himself describes Fluxus as his "publisher of last resort" (Flynt did permit Fluxus to publish his work, and took part in several Fluxus exhibitions), he claims no affiliation or interest in the Fluxus sensibility.  In fact, he is a strong critic of the neo-Dada sensibility.

In 1962, Flynt began an anti-art campaign.  He demonstrated against cultural institutions in New York City (such as MoMA and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts) in 1963 and against the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen twice in 1964.  Flynt wanted avant-garde art to become superseded by the terms of "veramusement" and "brend" - neologisms meaning pure recreation. 

Flynt is also known for his musical work that attempts to fuse avant-garde music (particularly the hypnotic aspects of minimalism) with free jazz, country blues, rock, and hillbilly music.  

Raga Electric: Experimental Music 1963-1971 is an anthology of Flynt's most challenging avant-garde work that includes Raga Electric (1966) and Free Alto (1964).  In 1966, Flynt recorded several demo tapes with The Insurrections, a folk-rock garage band, which were later compiled and released as I Don't Wanna in 2004.

His first CD release was You Are My Everlovin'/Celestial Power, initiating the "New American Ethnic Music" or NAEM series, quickly followed by Spindizzy (NAEM Volume 2) and Hillbilly Tape Music (NAEM Volume 3). Flynt's vision of rural roots music combined with American minimalism is further showcased in Blue Sky, Highway and Thyme (above) from Back Porch Hillbilly Blues, Volume 1.

Reviewing the album on AllMusic.com, Eugene Chadbourne writes:
In any discussion about Henry Flynt, the following point should inevitably be made. In avant-garde music, creating something new from a kernel off the ear of some traditional musical corn is a traditional act in itself -- popular, self-evident, and inevitably clich├ęd in just about any musical era. The work of Flynt is a rare example of music extrapolated from a folk music source that manages to become folk music itself, at least in the performances where something didn't go wrong with the experiment. The latter type of artistic grimace is also part of the series of faces made by a fascinating Flynt in the era before he gave up music completely, but are strictly in the minority on this excellent collection. 
Since the late '90s, several record labels have been releasing the complete body of material Flynt documented in a period roughly spanning the late '60s to early '80s. All of the releases are worthwhile, all could serve as an introduction as well as a main course, but the ease with which a set entitled "volume one" could be remembered as a starting point is both helpful and appropriate. Of the four pieces in this program, half are just plain brilliant examples of this artist's work, while the others contain a mixture of the well-done with what a native North Carolinian might describe as "could'nuh-should'nuh." It isn't that Flynt can't sing; on the contrary, when he gets it together on Blue Sky, Highway and Thyme it's because he gets into chanting rather than trying to sound like some guy that would sell you a tire on the Salisbury bypass.

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