News from Babel were an English avant-rock group founded in 1983 by Chris Cutler, Lindsay Cooper, Zeena Parkins and Dagmar Krause. They made two studio albums with several guest musicians (including Robert Wyatt) and disbanded in 1986.
In the wake of English avant-rock group Henry Cow (1968-1978), Art Bears (1978-1981), a song-oriented group, were formed by three of Henry Cow's members, drummer Chris Cutler, multi-instrumentalist Fred Frith and singer Dagmar Krause. In Art Bears' wake, News from Babel emerged in 1983, comprising Cutler, Krause, Henry Cow woodwind player Lindsay Cooper, and United States harpist Zeena Parkins. It was Parkins's first "rock group" and the first time she had recorded with her harp. This new group followed the song-oriented approach of Art Bears, but with a different musical emphasis. Cooper composed the music and Cutler wrote the song texts.
News from Babel were purely a studio group, and its formation, name and first album were inspired by literary critic George Steiner's 1975 book on language and translation, After Babel. Commenting on the group, Cutler said: "I liked the idea of a record as a letter or a newscast from a doomed but hopeful place." In 1983 they recorded Work Resumed on the Tower, the title referring to the Tower of Babel, with guest vocalist Phil Minton. At the same time they also recorded "Contraries", a Parkins/Cutler composition released as a single with Work Resumed on the Tower subscription editions. In 1986 they made Letters Home, named after the title of one of Sylvia Plath's books. By this stage, Krause had left the group, but she still guested on the album, which also featured guest vocalists Robert Wyatt, Sally Potter and Phil Minton, plus guitarist Bill Gilonis from The Work, who also produced the album.
Cooper's music on both albums is a blend of rock, jazz and cabaret, while Cutler's lyrics are literate, exploring Marxist themes and personal alienation. The group disbanded in 1986 after recording their second album.
Lindsay Cooper - keyboards, bassoon, sopranino and alto saxophones, horns, marimba, all musical compositions (except "Contraries"),
Chris Cutler - drums, electrics, percussion, all song texts,
Zeena Parkins - harp, prepared and electric harp, accordion, composer on "Contraries",
Dagmar Krause - voice (1983-1984),
On Work Resumed on the Tower
Phil Minton - trumpet, voice,
Georgie Born - bass guitar,
On Letters Home
Robert Wyatt - voice,
Dagmar Krause - voice,
Sally Potter - voice,
Phil Minton - voice,
Bill Gilonis - guitar, bass guitar,