I am fascinated by Vicki Bennett’s universe. For me, she’ll always be a big girl who refuses to give up her world of fairies and fantasy, a world that also has its ironic side, of course—if not, she wouldn’t be a big girl. I love how she takes a discipline that is so complex and secluded in the ghettos of experimental music like plunderphonics to familiar, fun ground, where you reach a moment that it’s so wonderful that it wraps you up so much that you entirely forget the suffering and hours of work that it must take to find the audio-collage pieces and put them together. Both Vicki Bennett (that is to say, People Like Us) and Jon Leidecker (alias Wobbly, another veteran activist of plunderphonics based in San Francisco) work on the same wavelength, and they have appeared together live or in studio sampling jams on more than one occasion. “Music for the Fire”, was bound to happen sooner or later. It’s a logical consequence of their working dynamics, which consist of reviewing dialogues from old films, soundtracks, albums of spoken word, and all sorts of sound detritus that popular culture has produced, then cutting them into little strips or specks of sound and making them into a bigger patchwork.
What role does this “Music for the Fire” play in the curriculum of People Like Us after twenty years of work? In reality, it is one more piece in a strict, coherent line of work that the British audio-artist has not strayed from. For Wobbly, it might be a foray into more pop terrain –his interpretation of plunderphonics has always been closer to that of the pioneers John Oswald and Negativland, with a more punk intention, challenging copyright laws, reclaiming the free use of music as if it were oxygen suspended in the air that, once organically processed, can be transformed into energy. Wobbly has always been noisier and more urban—I would like to recommend “Wild Why” (Tigerbeat6, 2002), a frenetic album built from sampled syllables of radio broadcasts of rappers and R&B vocalists. He has never wanted to be as melodic and nostalgic as Bennett, but sooner or later they were bound to reach an agreement. Like the tag line of “Lost” says, “destiny calls.”
What has helped them reach a consensus is the live show. Wobbly and People Like Us have performed together on several occasions, and part of this previously-worked-on, or also improvised material, is what has given a final body to “Music for the Fire”. The album warns you from the start, from its very title, that it should be consumed in a living room, if possible with a fire crackling in the hearth —it’s summer, so the timing is wrong, although the intention is good— as if you were getting ready to enter an incredible fantasy from a book, television broadcast, or an old film. The avalanche of samples is so boundless that you can only describe the album based on general impressions: there are recognisable or familiar samples—just right off the bat I can identify some piano notes from the later Nina Simone, Lionel Ritchie’s falsetto, the spiritual voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan , and (I would swear) the soundtrack of “Quo Vadis” (and if it’s not “Quo Vadis”, it’s “Ben-Hur” or some other majestic peplum). There is jazz and 40’s children’s music, soul, noise, bucolic ambient, voices that speak for half a second, backwards folk, and TV theme songs like “The Twilight Zone” (plus tons of flashes of AOR rock and spoken word transcribed in the libretto that comes with the CD, and which seems like a Lewis Carroll story, although the technique is pure cut-up). There is, definitively, everything that spins around the universe of Vicki Bennett, the big girl, a fascinating universe that is a regressive sound fiction, the re-imagination of a lost, enchanted past (as well as the nightmare of any lawyer specialising in copyrights). For both of them, it is one of their most baroque, yet also most accessible albums. Like The Beach Boys said, “Good vibrations.”