Some people may think the new live album that documents the collaboration
between the musicians who called themselves Praxis -- the Bill Laswell-led
bass/ drum/ guitar trio and the Invisibl Skratch Piklz -- is ground-breaking.
But to producer/rocker Laswell and the members of the four-man hip-hop
DJ crew known as ISP, it is no big deal really. After all, Laswell was
experimenting with the rock-meets-hip-hop improvisations back in 1982
and 1983, he said.
"I was doing that in the early-1980s," the 37-year-old Laswell said recently
his studio in Brooklyn, N.Y. "We had gotten away from it for a while
there seemed to be less interest in live turntable playing and interacting
with groups, but over the past five years it has definitely come back."
Transmutation Live, recently released on Douglas Music, the new
label run by Alan Douglas, the producer of albums by Jimi
Hendrix, The Last Poets, Miles Davis and Eric Dolphy, as well as cultural
icons Malcolm X and Timothy Leary, offers an unusual venture into rock
'n' roll-DJ jams. Recorded live during a June 21, 1996 collaborative
performance in Zurich, Switzerland, the album features a unique mix of
hip-hop's most innovative mix-masters and some of rock's heaviest hitters
performing four 15-minute musical movements.
The songs, titled "Movement 1" through "Movement 4," blend hip-hop break-beats, dub-bass lines, metal-guitar riffs and avant-garde noises into a unique sonic stew. In addition to all four members of Skratch Piklz, avant-metal guitarist
Buckethead, bassist Laswell, Primus drummer Brain and legendary old-
school DJ and longtime Laswell collaborator, DXT, controlling two sets of
turntables, round out this unusual ensemble. The eight musicians fuse their
influences through the developing movements.
"It's cool," said Q-bert, of the San Francisco-based Invisibl Skratch Piklz.
"It's a different type of thing, kind of rock with hip-hop with scratching.
We work with a lot of punk-rock groups and jazz groups, everything,
pretty much. We've always played with other instrumentalists."
The collage further pushes the envelope of hip-hop and rock by fusing the
technique of scratching -- in which the DJ manipulates an LP in a back-
and-forth motion to generate various rhythmic noises.
Certainly, each member of Praxis adds depth to the overall live sound. The
Invisibl Skratch Piklz, individually and collectively, are internationally
respected, innovative and award-winning DJs, while Brain has been a long-
time drummer for Praxis and now plays drums in the avant-guard rock act
Primus. Buckethead has numerous albums to his credit, and Laswell is a
prolific and eclectic producer who has worked with everyone from Iggy
Pop, Whitney Houston and The Last Poets to George Clinton, Motorhead
and jazz-rock-fusion pioneer Herbie Hancock.
It was Laswell's collaboration with Hancock and DXT on the Grammy-winning
1983 song "Rockit" that first introduced turntable-scratching into the pop-
music vernacular. But how this unusual, rare mix of Praxis members
found their way on the same stage to take the scratch sound to a new level
is another matter altogether.
As the story goes, ISP knew of Laswell through "Rockit," Laswell said, and
a few years ago met Brain, who is also from the Bay Area. "Praxis did a
live show in San Francisco and the Skratch Piklz opened for us and at the
end we all played together and we kept in touch," said Laswell, recalling a
show from four years ago. Praxis and the Skratch Piklz continued to do a
few one-off dates in the U.S. and Europe, which culminated in a mini-tour from which the recording of Transmutation Live was drawn, he added.
"Everything the Skratch Piklz did on the album is part of what they do
naturally. It's part of their routine, or their repertoire or language they
have created," Laswell said. "The riffs that we play, the more minimalist,
metal sound is pretty much generated by Buckethead. And then there's a
lot of improv and dub pieces that are mostly improvised. So we integrated
the two sounds, mixing it all together and improvising in and around it."
In fact, the show was completely improvised, Q-bert said. "It was totally
freestyle," he added "We did the show freestyle and it came out good."
Invisibl Skratch Piklz member Mixmaster Mike added that aside from a
brief rehearsal before the show, everything "was totally made-up on stage."
Because of Laswell's open attitude toward music-making, it isn't surprising
that he sees the turntable as an exciting musical instrument still to be
explored. "It isn't limited to one sound," Laswell said. "It can be used to
generate all kinds of different effects and tonalities.
"So you can learn and be influenced by a turntable as much as a bass can be
influenced by someone playing saxophone or rhythmically by a drummer,"
he said. "It's all just sound-collage." [Tues., Dec. 2, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]